NFL: New England Patriots-Minicamp

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, right, and rookie defensive end Chase Winovich, shown during a June minicamp, have developed a special bond over their shared alma mater and Winovich’s impressive head of hair.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — At first, it took time and patience. Truthfully, Chase Winovich wasn’t sure it was worth it.

You see, the hardest part about growing out hair is getting through the awkward phase. It’s when the hair isn’t long enough to look good, and not short enough to style properly. You end up at a self-conscious crossroads where a haircut seems like the best option.

That’s why it took Winovich so long to get here.

After several failed attempts in college, Winovich eventually stuck it out. The result is an electric blend of dirty blond locks that are magnificent. The length is over a foot by now. You see his hair falling out the back of his Patriots helmet on Sundays. You see these strands flowing in the wind, dancing to the rhythm of his hard-hitting play style when the ball is snapped.

What you don’t see is all the maintenance that goes into having some of the best hair in the NFL.

“I feel like I’ve learned a ton about long hair because no one really teaches you,” Winovich said. “When you’re a girl, I imagine it’s a whole life thing where ever since you’re young, you have your mom to teach you about your long hair. When I started growing it out in college, I didn’t really have anybody.”

To have hair like this Patriots rookie, you need to get into a routine. For Winovich, this means conditioning his hair every day. His favorite brand is Aveda and adds that the product is elite.

“It’s some of the best stuff you can get on the market,” Winovich said. “That’s not even an ad.”

Winovich alternates shampooing every other day. He also has a conditioning mist he uses. In order to keep the flow in top form, Winovich goes to a professional. Every six weeks, sometimes every month, he gets a deep conditioning treatment at a salon.

“I try to keep it feeling fresh,” the Patriots rookie said. “Before games, I’ll blow dry it and try to make it a little fluffier.”

Michigan roots

It all started with mopeds in Ann Arbor.

That’s when Winovich met Jake Ryan. That’s when he first noticed the linebacker’s golden flow. Ryan hosted Winovich during his recruiting visit to Michigan in 2013. The upperclassman took the recruit around campus on his moped. His hair was fantastic.

“(Ryan) was one of my inspirations, for sure,” Winovich said. “We ended up driving around campus. It was quite the experience. It was one of the first people I recognized with having great flow.”

Ryan started growing out his hair during his redshirt year at Michigan in 2010. He made a bet with teammate Ray Vinopal to see who could grow it out longer. By the time he got on the field, he had a lengthy flow of golden hair that draped over his shoulders on game day.

After committing to Michigan, Winovich spent one season with Ryan. Clearly, he made an impression.

“I got to know Chase really well,” said Ryan, now on the Jacksonville Jaguars. “He was one of my good buddies when I was a senior and he was a freshman coming in. I tried to point him in the right direction, but I guess something clicked and he started growing it out. The blondness of his hair is definitely because of me. There’s no way that’s natural. I was a blond guy.” (Winovich denies dying his hair.)

Winovich came to college knowing he wanted to do something different with his hair. At Thomas Jefferson (Penn.) High School, he experimented with different hair colors and styles. Every summer, football players dyed their hair at camp. When it ended, players typically shaved it off. Not Winovich. He’d grow it out, rocking a frosted-tips look that usually peaked by homecoming.

During his second year in Michigan, Winovich finally went for it.

“I tried like once or twice. It was getting through the awkward stage,” Winovich said. “I didn’t have a way to style it. That was my biggest issue. Finally, I started slicking it back. It worked well enough where I could get it long and eventually got it into a bun.

More hair, more game

The growth of Winovich’s hair coincided with his growth as a player in Michigan.

As a tight end, with short hair, Winovich appeared in six games. Winovich took the plunge during his redshirt sophomore season while moving to defensive end. The next year, when his flow fell past his shoulders, Winovich broke out, becoming one of the nation’s top edge rushers.

“I started growing my hair out my true sophomore year when I was playing tight end. I was like seventh-string on the depth chart at tight end,” Winovich said. “I had gotten hurt in camp and stuff. That’s when I made the decision to grow it out. As I grew it out, I felt like I grew within a lot, but also my hair grew as well. By the time, got on the field and stuff my hair was decently long. There was really no looking back for me.”

Added Ryan: “I think the hair just brings out the wild man in him.”

During the height of his popularity at Michigan, Winovich wanted to do more.

In 2017, he partnered with The ChadTough Foundation. The charity raises money for awareness and research of diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), which is an aggressive brain tumor found at the base of the brain. It’s in honor of Chad Carr, grandson of former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, who died in 2015 at age 5 due to the disease.

“My hair was one thing that kind of separated me from a lot of people and was kind of my niche at that point,” Winovich said. “I knew it was going to be used for that purpose, had to make it iconic in a sense. We ended up bleaching it, bleach blonde. Towards the end of the season... we decided if it would be best if we could raise $15,000 for my number, I would dye it orange.”

Winovich, several teammates and coaches dyed their hair for the 2018 Orange Outback Bowl to raise money for the foundation. The team helped raise over $400,000 for the cause.

Foxborough flow

Winovich’s hair became a story this summer with the Patriots.

On Aug. 29, Tom Brady did the unthinkable. While Winovich was standing on the sideline, the quarterback snuck up behind him and clipped off some of that perfectly conditioned hair.

“Yeah, that was fun,” Brady told The Providence Journal. “I like Chase. I’ve been around him. I’ve watched him for a long time. He’s a great guy. His hair, I joke about it a lot. He and I have a great little banter back and forth — both Michigan guys.”

Every year, certain Patriots rookies receive special haircuts from Brady. The result is typically an embarrassing hack job. When the Patriots drafted Winovich, many wondered if Brady would shave the rookie’s head.

To get ahead of it, Winovich told Brady he could. He hoped the reverse psychology would work in his favor.

“(Brady) was a little silly for that, but I told him he could cut it if he really wanted to,” Winovich said. “He had that option. If I had resisted it, I think he would’ve wanted to mess with me more about it. At the end of the day, it’s just hair. If that’s what it takes for them to feel like I’m more part of the team, I would’ve done that.”

This season, Winovich has stuck out. His play on the field is as loud as those golden locks that fall from his helmet. His two sacks are tied for the most for all NFL rookies. His teammates have taken notice of the Winovich’s play, his personality and of course, his hair.

“He’s been a great player for our team in a short period of time,” Brady said. “He’s got a great personality, a great spirit. I hope he never changes. I think he’s just a very unique person, who’s a very good person and a very good football player. It’s a good combination.”

“At the end of the day, it is just hair,” Winovich added. “One day, who knows, I might go bald. A lot of people deal with that. For the time being, I’m really enjoying it. In a way, it’s been a part of me.”