Since 2008, only one mainstay along Tech’s offensive line has been more imposing than right tackle Blake DeChristopher: his beard.
DeChristopher’s mane — or “The Beard,” as he refers to it — has been his signature since he arrived in Blacksburg. The Beard has caressed DeChristopher’s face for most of his 37 career starts — only vanishing when he chooses to showcase his unsettling Wilford Brimley mustache.
The Richmond native, under the guise of a West Virginia shack-dwelling hermit, has always admired quality face foliage.
“The inspiration came from older offensive linemen back in the day,” he said. “They grew their beards and looked tough. You wouldn’t mess with them.”
DeChristopher uses The Beard not to intimidate opponents, but to distract them.
“I think people are just mesmerized by it,” he said. “Once during a TV timeout against Boston College, their defensive end looked at me and said, ‘Man, you’ve got an awesome beard.’”
Even though his cheek-chia is merely hair, DeChristopher sees it as much more than that.
“The Beard has become a part of me,” he said. “Some nights I’ll just stare at it in the mirror to give it some attention — in case it hasn’t had enough that day. I’ll look at it so it feels loved.”
Grooming a Unabomber beard isn’t as easy as it looks.
“I like to use Pert Plus shampoo and conditioner — two-in-one,” he said. “I wash it out every other day, and I’ll comb it out sometimes.”
The ability to grow a gnarly beard with densely-populated whiskers has long been a rite of passage which separates men from boys. However, not everyone on Tech’s squad passes the test.
“We have a lot of guys on the team that can grow a beard — I wouldn’t call them A-listers,” DeChristopher said. “They’re probably B-lister beards. My beard is definitely an A-lister. Obviously.”
B-list chin-bush status isn’t quite as demoralizing as one might think.
Some of the players DeChristopher mentioned by name were Greg Nosal and Beau Gentry — Andrew Lanier is a solid B-plus.
“When he wants to be an A, he can do it,” DeChristopher said of Lanier and his talent at growing facial hair. “He likes to keep it nice and clean, which is understandable.
“Eric Martin is a B-lister, but he doesn’t count — he’s a red-head.”
To earn B-list status is an honor compared to the bottom echelon of neck-shrubs.
Jaymes Brooks wishes he could be considered a B-lister
“He can’t grow a beard,” DeChristopher said. “He’s been growing his facial hair for 20 years, and he has just a couple chin hairs and a little mustache — so we all give him a hard time.”
The Beard has earned DeChristopher a lot of notoriety on campus, especially for a guy playing a less-than-glorified position.
“People recognize it,” he said. “People say, ‘Oh hey! There’s Blake DeChristopher with The Beard!’ I think that’s kind of funny. As an offensive lineman, they normally wouldn’t know who I was.”
Despite all the attention, DeChristopher isn’t out to impress anybody with his ZZ Top rendition.
“It looks terrible,” he said. “I know it looks terrible, but I don’t care. I’ve got a girlfriend so I don’t really need to worry about my looks right now.”
His high school sweetheart, Carter, doesn’t find the excessive mug-monkey overly attractive.
“The mustache, she doesn’t like, because it hangs over my lip,” he said. “She says it looks pretty bad when she looks at me, but she’ll have to deal with it.”
When it comes to other girls wanting a slice of The Beard, Carter has nothing to worry about.
“I don’t know that the ladies check out The Beard,” DeChristopher said. “I think it’s more of the dudes that think, ‘Wow. I wish I had a beard like that.’ I think the girls look at it and think, ‘That guy hasn’t showered in two weeks.’”
DeChristopher’s teammates have certainly taken notice of his jaw gremlin.
“It’s definitely a man-beard,” said tight end Chris Drager. “He puts a lot of work into it. I’m pretty jealous, honestly. He looks like the abominable snowman.”
In an environment like the weight room, where testosterone runs rampant, a luscious brier patch hanging from your face garners a lot of respect.
“I have a great relationship with our strength coaches,” DeChristopher said. “They love The Beard. Coach (Mike) Gentry is a big Chuck Norris fan. As you know, Chuck Norris has a pretty solid beard. He always tells me Chuck Norris jokes, and we bond that way.”
The Beard has earned high praise from assistant strength coach Keith Short, too. A former Tech offensive lineman, Short is also a facial hair connoisseur — occasionally sporting a mustache that would give Tom Selleck a bleeding ulcer.
“I think Blake’s beard is extremely manly,” Short said. “It’s probably the best in the nation — in all of college football in my opinion. I haven’t seen everyone else’s beards, but I couldn’t imagine anyone else having a better beard than Blake.
“He looks like he hasn’t trimmed it in the last five years — not a bit; just complete growth for five years,” Short said. “A lot of people like to trim and groom their beard, and keep it above their lip. Blake just lets it go — I think that’s what separates him from the rest of the pack.”
When DeChristopher partially tore his pectoral muscle during summer bench-press maxing, the team was concerned it might need to play without him — and his chin-Chihuahua.
“When it first happened — with any injury, you think the worst,” he said. “A lot of thoughts are going through your head. Am I going to play football again? Is this going to affect me long term? It was definitely hard the first couple days when I didn’t know what had happened. Waiting for the MRI was really scary because I didn’t know what my future held.
“Once they told me it was a partial tear, and they could use PRP (platelet-rich plasma) and it could help, they were still optimistic about it. After doing the rehab and getting in with Mike Goforth and the training staff, they really pushed me in rehab and got it back to close to 100 percent. It feels really good right now. I’m just happy to be back.”
DeChristopher isn’t the only one pleased by his return to the lineup. His fellow offensive linemen missed more than just his dominant blocking.
“When I came back in the huddle, they were so cheerful,” DeChristopher said. “They don’t even look me in the eye — they just look at my beard. They say ‘The Beard! How are you doing?’ I’m like, ‘Dude, I’m right here, man. I was the one hurt. My beard’s been perfect.’”
DeChristopher and The Beard have been through a lot together — and that bond won’t be breaking any time soon.
“I haven’t trimmed it in about two months,” he said. “I’m just letting it go. I don’t really have a goal. I just want to see how long it can get. I’d like to see maybe a couple more inches. Hopefully that will fill it out a little bit more.”