Provo • Underneath the helmets, there's suddenly a lot more blonds on the Timpview football team.
Most are bleached streaks and shocks of vivid, highlighter yellow, adding even more pop to the already wild hairstyles cropping up among the Thunderbirds this week.
It's not exactly fashion-conscious, but it's a tradition. Dating back to Timpview's run of four straight Class 4A titles, the team has done this for the playoffs. It's a symbol of unity, of excitement at being back in the postseason.
And this year, tradition has been as important as ever.
"We've usually done this in the semis, but we waited to keep focused for East last week," senior linebacker Charles Tu'ua says. "This program hasn't changed much. That's one of the reasons we've been so successful."
After a 32-14 win over No. 1-ranked East on Friday, the Thunderbirds albeit a different group than the one that was synonomous with an incredible 36-win streak are back in the spotlight. It's almost a comfortable routine to go to Rice-Eccles Stadium, as if any other finish to the season would be unnatural or strange.
Despite losing their head coach in the offseason and forfeiting a region season last year and four games this year, the Thunderbirds don't get much sympathy. Plenty of detractors will grumble about the multimillion dollar facilities and the transfers who take the field for the team.
But Timpview doesn't want pity. The team wants to put another championship poster on the wall of their facility, where eight already hang. This week, that title is within its grasp.
"We wanted to make a stand," says Gregson Aspinall, a senior running back. "We have a legacy here, and we know we have to live up to it. Hopefully we can start a new thing now."
The program lost Louie Wong, but kept coaches Chad Van Orden and Cary Whittingham, strong personalities who have helped keep the current crop of Thunderbirds on track in a season that has been full of difficult swings and emotions.
But it's also clear that the individual leaders on the team have found ways to bring the program back from a two-year absence from the title game.
The offense is as talented as ever, relying on a much-improved Jake Lloyd at quarterback. Lloyd has leaned on receivers Dax Raymond, Rhett Van Leeuwen and Braydon Galland to throw 50 touchdown passes this season, within four of surpassing Riley Nelson for the state season record.
Perhaps the most improvement has been on defense, where the team has gotten a reputation as a fast, attacking unit. Even with the program's history, it's certainly odds-defying that a player such as Pita Taumoepenu, an immigrant from Tonga who learned football last year, is now leading the state with 21 sacks.
The consistency and the willingness to work make Timpview a frustrating opponent. Even with its transfers, only two seniors now sport BCS-level scholarship offers.
The Thunderbirds say they have learned that pride comes with trophies more than anything. And they hope to prove how proud they are to be at Timpview, and not just by dyeing their hair.
"There's a lot of trust in this program, and we don't worry much about what's going to happen," Tu'ua says. "We didn't want to feel sorry for ourselves. We wanted to win a championship."
Friday's live chat
O Join The Salt Lake Tribune's staff during Friday's three state championship football games for a live chat. We'll provide updates and commentary on the action at tribpreps.com.
Friday at Rice-Eccles Stadium, 2:30 p.m.
Jordan vs. Syracuse
Friday at Rice-Eccles Stadium, 6:30 p.m.
Timpview vs. Mountain Crest
Friday at Rice-Eccles Stadium, 11 a.m.
Spanish Fork vs. Dixie
All games will be televised on KJZZ.
• Won state championships in 1986, 1991, 1997, 2004, 2006-2009.
• Holds state record for longest winning streak at 36 games.
• Went 13-0 in 2007 and 2008.
• Had a 17-game winning streak in the playoffs.