Western Carolina began like other football teams -- with the classic leather helmet with no face mask. But as the game evolved, so did the headgear.
The first version of a Western Carolina football helmet is believed to be solid gold, with the traditional gray (or metal-colored) face mask. Research of photos from the 1950s has also shown gold domes with a purple stripe, although there is no clear-cut verification of that design.
During the 1950s, the helmet was changed to solid purple, again with the metal-colored facemask. It would remain plain until the 1960s and the arrival of Western's legendary head football coach, Bob Waters.
The first design used by Coach Waters was the script "The Cats" in solid white. This would be the moniker of the Catamount football team until the early eighties when the colors were altered to an old gold scripted "The Cats," outlined in white. This was used until 1989 when the helmet underwent its most dramatic change since going from gold to purple.
During the one-year Dale Strahm tenure, the football helmets resembled those of LSU, with a yellow-gold dome with purple-white-purple striping down the center. The helmet was also adorned with the Catamount logo of the time and the letters "WCU" arched above the logo. This look, like Coach Strahm, lasted one season.
In 1990, with the arrival of former Bob Waters's assistant Steve Hodgin, also marked the return of the purple helmets. However, due to budget constraints, the team was unable to purchase logos for the helmets and the team played once again with the plain purple helmets.
One year later, in 1991, the gold with white outlined "The Cats" returned to the headgear, using a new version of gold called Vegas gold instead of the previously used old gold. The new golden color was brighter and more flashy.
The new version of the old look was used until 1998 when head coach Bill Bleil, in his second season, decided to change the look of the helmet to match the uniforms. The purple dome was adorned by a Vegas gold block "W," similar to the one used by the University of Washington, with a gold-white-gold stripe down the center. This new look was utilized until 2002 when former Waters' player and assistant Kent Briggs was hired.
Briggs wanted to return "The Cats" to the helmet in some fashion, and did so with the new modern look helmet which also incorporates a variation of the "Cat Eyes" logo that was prevalent on the WCU campus during the mid-1990s. The current helmet also features a pair of symmetrical "scratches" down the center, both beginning and ending in a point. The dual marks down the center are similar to -- but not the same -- as the ones adorning the Carolina Panthers' helmets.
Special thanks to WCU Equipment Manager Mike Taylor, Asst. Athletics Director for Media Relations Mike Cawood, and Asst. Athletics Director for External Affairs Steven Herren for their assistance on this project. Also, special thanks to Charles Arey and the following site for the depictions seen of the Western Carolina football helmets: the Helmet Project