Pitt receiver Kellen McAlone aims to impress coaches enough to earn scholarship
Michael McAlone had no problem with his son growing out his hair.
After all, Pitt wide receiver Kellen McAlone was three weeks from graduation day with the Class of 2014 at Jesuit College Prep in Dallas, and he had spent most of his life in Catholic schools, adhering to their rules and regulations.
“I just wanted to do my own thing,” he said.
But when Dad turned on the TV Nov. 27, 2015, to watch his son, by then a redshirt freshman, join Pitt's special teams against Miami, the hair had grown too long.
“I texted him, ‘Grow (it) as long as you want, but don't breach the nameplate (on the back of his jersey). You've worked too hard to earn it,' ” Michael McAlone said.
“It suddenly started getting tucked into the helmet from then on. I figured I would put it in a ponytail,” he said.
Until two months ago. Look closely. The long hair is gone.
McAlone decided it was time to not only cut the hair, but also do something useful with the remains, rather than have the hairdresser just sweep them off the floor.
So he day after he returned to Dallas from a mission trip to Haiti with other Pitt athletes, he found a family friend who had scissors and expertise. The result is 11 inches of McAlone's blond hair was sent to Locks of Love, a nonprofit group that provides hairpieces to children under 21 who suffer from long-term medical hair loss.
“My mom and dad had talked about (the charity) for a while,” he said. “I'd love to meet the recipient.”
McAlone, 22, admits the new look is “weird” but also welcome at night.
“I love it because when you have long hair and go to sleep, you have to position yourself so you don't yank it and wake yourself up,” he said.
Truth be told, McAlone, the only Pitt walk-on who has earned two letters, has more important items on his mind than hair length. He will report July 31 with his teammates for the start of training camp. His immediate goal: earn a scholarship.
“He has definitely mentioned I'm in the conversation for it,” Kellen said of coach Pat Narduzzi. “It's just a matter of me being consistent and doing my job. I completely agree with him on that.”
McAlone (6-foot-1, 210 pounds) caught 66 passes for 1,069 yards during his senior season at Jesuit, a school that counts Pirates first baseman Josh Bell and 2015 Masters and U.S. Open champion Jordan Spieth among its graduates.
McAlone's high school quarterback was Bo Schneider, who was with Pitt briefly last year after transferring from Central Florida.
One night, while watching Pitt play Bowling Green in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in 2013, McAlone received a phone call from Pitt assistant coach Mickey Turner, who invited him to visit the campus.
He fell in love with the city the minute he came through the Fort Pitt Tunnels.
“I've never seen anything like that before,” he said.
But he had other reasons for traveling halfway across the country to go to college.
“I didn't want to be the kid who stays in the same area all his life,” he said. “I wanted to branch out and meet some new people.”
He said his Pitt experience has turned out well, noting coaches treat walk-ons like any other player.
“They treat me just like any other scholarship player,” he said. “The players don't even treat me any different. They respect me because they see how hard I work.”
One unexpected perk: McAlone is featured prominently in the iconic photo from Pitt's upset of Clemson last year. Narduzzi is kneeling (possibly praying) while waiting for Chris Blewitt to kick the game-winning field goal. The coach's arms are locked with All-ACC offensive tackle Brian O'Neill on his right and McAlone on his left.
Equals sharing a bonding moment.
“Sheer luck,” McAlone said of his appearance in the photo.
McAlone, who is scheduled to graduate next April with a double major in communications and business, doesn't know if his hair will get long again.
“I don't know how professional the hair would look in a business environment,” he said.