When it comes to his hair, Anthony DeMaio has let only one person cut his locks: his mother, Nicole.
But with his family 3,000 miles away in San Diego, DeMaio, a senior midfielder for the Maryland men’s lacrosse team, has had to adapt. So who has he turned to? Teammate and sophomore faceoff specialist Michael Roche IV.
“He actually did this one. He got me a nice little mullet here,” DeMaio said Tuesday, showing off his cut via Zoom.
Asked whether he had any concerns about turning over his hair to a nonprofessional like Roche, DeMaio said: “Definitely a little bit just because my mom’s a hairdresser and no one else has ever cut my hair. But I did let Mike cut my hair, and he did a great job. So I’ll definitely be going back to him.”
While several businesses are still closed to the Terps because of the coronavirus pandemic, the chair where Roche does his handiwork is always open. He has cut the hair of many of his teammates and even those of interim offensive coordinator Bobby Benson and defensive coordinator Jesse Bernhardt.
The one prominent member of the team whose hair Roche has not yet styled is coach John Tillman’s. But that’s not a knock on Roche or his skills, according to Tillman.
“I’ll be honest: I kind of forgot that Rochey was doing haircuts,” Tillman said. “I don’t have as much hair as the other guys. So maybe I’m a little more conservative with what I do and where I go. But I would trust Michael.”
Roche’s status as the team’s unofficial barber began last March when the surge in COVID-19 cases canceled all NCAA spring sports. Returning to his hometown of North Andover, Massachusetts, after participating in a team-wide campaign to have the players shave their heads March 1 to raise funds for cancer research at Boston Children’s Hospital, Roche was despondent to find out that his favorite barbershop was closed.
“I was like, ‘Geez, I should start cutting it myself,’ because I like short hair,” he recalled Wednesday. “So I went out and got some clippers.”
Roche started in the bathroom of his parents’ house. (“I am my own best customer,” he quipped. “I had to experiment somewhere, right?”) Later, he started to cut the manes of his father, Michael Roche III, and younger brother, Jack, and then two friends in his parents’ garage.
After moving back to College Park in late August, Roche and the rest of his teammates were warned about the consequences of breaking health and safety protocols designed to limit the spread of the coronavirus and advised to stay within their own bubble. That inspired an idea.
“Going to a barbershop is kind of high-risk for getting COVID,” Roche said. “So I said, ‘I’ll just cut your hair.’ I guess that’s how it all started. … It just made sense.”
Roche said he thinks his first client to sit in a chair on the back porch of a home he shares with five other sophomores in attackmen Jack Brennan, Daniel Maltz and Jack Sawyer (Calvert Hall), faceoff specialist Connor Calderone, and defenseman Kelan Duff was junior defenseman Brett Makar, who asked for a fade that began with a No. 1 guard at the bottom to a No. 2 guard at the top. Makar acknowledged a slight hesitation about letting Roche style his mane.
“At first, I was a little uneasy about it,” he said. “But due to the circumstances this year with COVID protocols and everything that we’re following, I’m not really seeing many people besides my teammates. So I figured I’d give him a shot.”
Roche certainly didn’t lack in confidence.
“I was pretty confident because at that point, I was cutting my own hair a lot,” Roche said. “I was like, ‘If I’m cutting my own hair, how hard can it be to cut someone else’s hair?’ So I just kind of dove into it, and I don’t think he was worried either because you can’t see anyone for a while. We were just seeing the guys on the team anyway. So it was like, ‘Whatever. How bad can it be?’”
Makar approved of the cut and has since returned to Roche two more times. On his last visit a week ago, Makar asked for a skin fade.
“He did a really good job,” Makar said Tuesday. “I’ve gotten a few compliments on it. Out of 10, I’d probably give him an 8 1/2 and then a 9 because he’s my friend.”
Roche, who is on his third set of clippers and guards, said the most difficult assignments involved senior attackman Jared Bernhardt and sophomore attackman Ryan Siracusa because they like their hair long at the top, which required the use of scissors.
“I usually don’t use scissors,” Roche said, noting that their cuts took about an hour each compared with the 20-minute average he spends on other teammates. “So I was kind of experimenting on them with the scissors. I don’t know if I would say theirs was the hardest, but they took the most time.”
Roche said he felt most nervous when Benson and Bernhardt asked him to cut their hair on the team’s practice field.
“I didn’t want to screw them up, but it came out good, and they were happy,” Roche said.
Benson, who plans to see Roche for another cut, said he was convinced after seeing how he cut Bernhardt’s hair first.
“I was in need of a haircut badly, and I had tried to run out and get it cut somewhere else, but I just let him do it,” Benson said. “My wife [Taylor] told me it was the best haircut I ever got. She said I had an expert fade in the back. That’s an endorsement right there.”
Roche said he has accepted no money for his work and has even turned down a few lunch offers. He said the most satisfying aspect of cutting hair is spending time with his teammates.
“We’ll just talk the whole time, and I’ll have music going, which is nice because I probably wouldn’t be sitting down and talking with them for an hour otherwise,” he said. “It’s like when you go to the barbershop. You sit down, and the barber’s asking you questions. So it’s definitely a way to connect, which is why I like doing it.”
Roche, who is majoring in business, had run a landscaping business during previous summers and said he would like to start his own company although he isn’t sure whether he would choose barber as a career path. Tillman said Roche has that entrepreneurial spirit.
“He’s pretty good with that type of stuff,” Tillman said. “He’s a go-getter. He’ll be very successful down the road because he’s a guy who thinks of stuff like that and takes the initiative.
Roche said the most gratifying review came from junior midfielder Kyle Long.
“He said, ‘You’ve got to take a video and tell me exactly what you did so that I can tell my barber over the summer when you’re not around,’” Roche said.
Roche said he has not heard anyone express dissatisfaction with his handiwork. He said he is thankful that his teammates continue to have faith in his hands.
“It’s kind of cool that they’ll trust me to do it,” he said.
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