Utah Football Wearing Military Appreciation Helmets Led to Man’s Connection with World War II Ship

by Josh Lanier
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Armando Villarreal has one prediction for this week’s matchup between the No. 24 Utah Utes and No. 4 Oregon: he’s going to cry. He’s a diehard Nebraska fan and doesn’t have any loyalty to the West Coast teams, but he cares about his country. The Utes commissioned the veteran turned artist to make 150 helmets that feature the U.S.S. Salt Lake City that the team will wear Saturday on Military Appreciation Night.

Villarreal hadn’t heard of the U.S.S. Salt Lake City when the Utah football team approached him to make the helmets, the Salt Lake City Tribune reported. The Utes showed him the jerseys that players will wear and set him to work with little instruction.

Each helmet needed to be handmade. For months, he and his wife toiled late into the night to sand, paint, and detail the helmets. Each one includes a U.S.S. Salt Lake City as it plows the seas at sunset. Though, Villareal isn’t sure how many hours he put into the project. Suffice to say, it was a lot, but it was worth it.

Utes linebacker Devin Lloyd got one of the first sneak peeks of the helmets and couldn’t believe he’ll get to wear it.

“Gorgeous,” Lloyd told KSL Sports. “I got to do the reveal and when I first saw them, I was just in shock. … Just everything that goes along with the designs, having a star and there’s 11 stars on there, just all the intricate details, honors the USS Salt Lake. I think it’s amazing.”

You can see them on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET when the No. 4 Ducks take on No. 24 Utes in Utah.

One Man Army, ‘One Ship Fleet’

Before Armando Villarreal picked up a brush, he first started researching the famed World War II cruiser.

“It was amazing,” Villarreal told the Tribune. “I’d never heard of the U.S.S. Salt Lake City. I started looking at all of these pictures and the history of it. To read everything it had done was just fascinating.”

The U.S.S. Salt Lake City got a nickname the “One Ship Fleet” because it could seemingly do everything on its own — like Villarreal. Historians say the ship sank at least 15 enemy ships and damaged 15 more. It took down planes and battled submarines during its time in the Pacific Theater.

Villarreal served in the Army in Iraq and Kosovo. His grandfather fought in WWII in the Navy.

“Being a veteran, these military projects are always near and dear to me,” he said.

Villarreal contracts with Schutt Sports, the company that makes helmets for the Utes. He’s worked on special helmets for teams across the country and in several other sports. But this one has a special place in his heart.

“Just overall, what this helmet means to me and the look,” he said, “this one is by far my favorite.”

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