Late last week, when Kansas State’s football team was holding a weightlifting session in preparation for the upcoming season, senior defensive back Denzel Goolsby strolled into the room with a question for fellow defensive back Walter Neil Jr.
“Bro, do I look good?” Goolsby asked Neil.
“Yeah, bro,” Neil replied, a tad confused. “You look straight.”
Goolsby was asking because the day prior, he became the first subject of starting quarterback Skylar Thompson’s new hobby: cutting hair.
Neil, though, was telling a white lie. In reality, he thought Thompson could have done better on Goolsby’s hair.
“I was like, ‘Ahhh, I just lied to Goolsby,” Neil said with a laugh Tuesday. “‘Skylar, you messed him up. It’s all right now. It’s good now.’’”
That’s the story of Thompson’s foray into the barbering world, or at least how his peers received his first client. Thompson and Goolsby are roommates — best friends, according to the latter — and because Thompson cuts his own hair and keeps a full beard, Goolsby figured it made sense to become his roommate’s first customer.
“He did good,” Goolsby said. “I was impressed, honestly. I was really impressed.”
Where the haircut happened, in the kitchen of the two players’ apartment, says something about Thompson’s inexperience. Calling him the team barber would be an overstatement. So far, he’s only cut the hair of Goolsby and junior running back Harry Trotter.
He learned the way anybody could: online. He watches tutorials on YouTube and Instagram, watching step-by-step how to execute the haircut his client wants. In the cases of Goolsby and Trotter, that meant learning how to cut a fade, a haircut where the barber cuts the sides and back from the top down, so the hair is full higher up and progressively becomes shorter on the way down.
“That took me awhile to blend that in, and same for Harry,” Thompson said. “It just depends what you want. I care a lot. I’ve had the same haircut my whole life, but if I don’t get a good haircut, it bothers me for weeks. I think about that when I was cutting Denzel and Harry. I don’t want to mess their hair up.”
Thompson likes to take his time, because he strives for perfection
That’s why he took an hour and a half on Goolsby’s haircut.
“I was like, ‘Hey, I’m trying to cut hair. I feel like I’d be good at it. Would you let me try?’” Thompson said. “So I gave him a haircut. I was happy that he trusted me, honestly, because Denzel, he’s Mr. GQ. He looks good all the time. Best-dressed guy. That’s just who he is. So I knew if I messed up, I may have lost a roommate, and I don’t know if he would have ever talked to me again.”
Goolsby and Trotter both have given Thompson their blessings, but the other side of this story is that some teammates remain hesitant to do the same.
Count Neil in that camp.
“Skylar cannot cut hair. Do not believe him,” Neil said, chuckling. “I would never let Skylar cut my hair. Do not listen to this guy. Never go get a haircut from Skylar Thompson.”
And why not?
“It just doesn’t look good,” Neil said. “Denzel’s just a good-looking guy, but the haircut did not look good. I told him that.”
Thompson said he was less than surprised to hear Neil’s assessment.
“Walt goes against whatever I say,” Thompson said. “That’s just Walt being Walt. I honestly wouldn’t cut Walt’s hair. There’s some guys on the team, that if they asked me to, I would be like, ‘Nah.’ I honestly don’t trust myself to do that. Walt’s a good dude.”
Others, like senior running back James Gilbert and junior linebacker Eli Sullivan — both of whom are rocking fades ahead of K-State’s season-opener Saturday — are content with their own barbers. There’s the team barber, a man named Chris, who dishes out cuts in the team barbershop in the locker room. Sullivan said he likes to stick to his own guy.
They both agreed on this, though: Let Thompson accumulate more experience. Cut a few more guys. Then they might let Thompson use the clippers on them.
As for what he’s looking for in Thompson’s cut, Gilbert offered a few tips.
“Just the line up,” Gilbert said. “Can he taper it good? Stuff like that. Little stuff.”
Senior defensive lineman Trey Dishon’s standards are higher. He wants to see Thompson perform a skin fade — that is, a fade that ends at skin level. Otherwise, he’s not letting Thompson touch his hair.
“Once he gets to a skin fade, then I’ll let him go,” Dishon said. “He knows that skin fades are hard. He doesn’t even let people cut his hair on a skin fade. Once he can manage a skin fade, then I’ll let him cut my hair.”
Before it began in practice, Thompson’s new hobby began as a tic when he was younger. He “always had an obsession with hair,” he said. He would play with his mother, Teresa’s.
Years later, after Teresa passed away from breast cancer in 2004, Thompson would do the same with his stepmother, Kathy, who has curly hair.
“I would always try to run my fingers through her hair, and I would just be ripping her hair out,” Thompson said. “I would eventually get to where I would have one string of hair that would eventually go straight because I played with it so much.”
That led Thompson to buy a pair of clippers, “just for the heck of it,” he said. Just to have fun. “Mess around with it,” in his own words.
Down the road, when he’s retired from football or another occupation, Thompson says he’d like to open his own barbershop. “I think you could see Skylar cutting my hair some more in the future,” Goolsby said, and whether he meant in two days or two decades remains to be seen.
For now, Thompson is treating barbering as merely a side thing, a “social event,” while he focuses on guiding the Wildcats into their first season under new head coach Chris Klieman.
When they take the field Saturday, a few might be doing so sporting a new haircut — courtesy of their starting quarterback.
“They know my number. They know where I’m at,” Thompson said. “So if they want a haircut, they know where to come. I can’t promise that it’s going to be done in a timely fashion. It might take me awhile. But that’s because I care about my customers.”