Jared Sparks hardly can wait until August.
Not solely because that’s when Purdue’s training camp will begin and Sparks is expected to play a role on the Boilermakers’ offense as a redshirt freshman.
Just as important: Sparks will be moving into a house, not a shared dorm room or tiny apartment. And that means more closet space.
For a guy with an interest in fashion — ones who intends on using his eventual Purdue degree in selling and sales management to start a clothing line — that’s a big deal. Then, the double-digit pairs of shoes he has on campus can breathe a bit and the hangers lined with clothes from Gucci, Nike, H&M and adidas can gain separation. Maybe, even, his Purdue-specific gear will find a way back home, instead of largely kept at the football facility, shoved into crevices in the lockers. (Though, soon, he’ll have an even bigger locker space in the new performance complex.)
For Sparks, fashion isn’t something he went looking for, he said. It found him. Growing up in Louisiana, Sparks said he had a big family and some of his cousins were into shoes and clothes, and it grew on him. He likes the idea of “being able really to express yourself in a way."
Now, in his second year at Purdue, he continues to refine his style and is learning how to showcase it on the budget of a college student.
"It’s just about having your own style, being your own trendsetter," Sparks said. "I found joy in (fashion). I never really brought it upon other people. It was always internal. Nobody really knew. I always was emphatic about looking at the newest (styles), what was out, the newest shoes. I’ve always wanted to have all the shoes, all the clothes and everything. Funds may never have been there enough for me, but that’s hopefully when I make it. That’s one of the things I definitely will do, get all the shoes, get all the clothes, all that."
Sparks’ Instagram is littered with “GQ” shots, casual off-the-cuff stills and more professional-looking pictures. The latter was accomplished earlier this year when he was asked to participate in a Society of Minority Managers Date Auction on campus. The event raised money for the Martin Center for Sickle Cell, and Sparks said that aspect appealed to him when teammate Aaron Banks suggested Sparks to the group. But so did the opportunity to play “model.”
When he envisions his own clothing line, Sparks said he’d be happy to be a behind-the-scenes guy — he’s an artist but not a designer, necessarily, so he’s looking at more of just having the ideas and relaying those to someone who can sketch them out and actually make the clothes — but if he’d have to take on a larger role and be the “face” of the company, he’s certainly OK with that, too.
“I just like taking pictures and being in front of the camera,” he said. “It’s not about being cocky or anything. I just love it. I find peace in it. I felt I was pretty good at it as well. I always got a couple compliments here and there from my peers. There’s definitely a modeling aspect to it I’d like to pursue.”
For the date auction, Sparks and the rest of the “bachelors” (and “bachelorettes”) posed for pictures on the steps of Hovde Hall. For the shoot, he wore all black, though skin showed through rips in the knees of his pants and through the halfway unbuttoned shirt he wore under a pea coat. Bling was prominent on his left wrist in the form of a large watch. The belt was Gucci. The boots were Chelsea.
The look was a good representation of how Sparks defines his style.
“I may look here and there for flashy colors, but I’m really a neutral guy, black, gray, brown. I just like everything simple, a clean look,” he said. “Eventually, when I hit my late-20s, early-30s, I just want to wear suits all the time.
“I like (clothes) fitted to the fact where I don’t like them loose or baggy. I don’t like the super-tight clothes. It comes off as a feminine way for me. I try to stay away from that. How my body shape is, I can wear some fitted things and be able to rock it.”
The photos from the shoot were posted on the website, allowing potential bidders a glimpse at one of the options for the auction. The auction itself required Sparks to stand on stage and go through the bidding process. He said he raised about $200 and went on a date with two girls. (And said his girlfriend was just fine with that.)
On the date, he stayed casual, wearing a long T-shirt from H&M with jean shorts and Vans.
He didn’t ask any advice before assembling the outfit, though he does have a couple teammates, Benaiah Franklin and Antonio Blackmon, who also are interested in fashion and they’ll chat about the newest trends.
Blackmon and Sparks share at least one common trend: “Jorts” (jean shorts). They often provide quite a conversation starter — some teammates think they’re hideous while others embrace them.
“Sometimes I take risks,” Sparks said. “Not a lot of people do that. Some people know how to rock (jorts). Then (the others) get jealous sometimes.”
Sparks said some teammates will ask for advice on what to wear or will invite him along on shopping trips to offer pointers. Rarely will Sparks offer unsolicited advice, and that’s for a couple reasons: He realizes each guy has his own style and wouldn’t want to judge it and he knows most fellas don’t really like talking about fashion, at least as it relates to clothing. (Sneaker talk largely is acceptable.)
“It’s men,” he said. “It’s a thing like, especially football guys, we’re really based on masculinity, so we’re not really going to ask too many of our teammates, ‘How do I look in this? What should I wear?’ But I do have some guys I’m close with, who are my roommates and they’ll be like, ‘J, you think this looks good?’ Or ‘Do you have something I can borrow?’ I’ll be like, ‘Yeah, of course.’ ”
Not that Sparks can loan clothes to everyone.
He shakes his head in dismay that buddies Tanner Hawthorne, a 6-foot-7, nearly 300-pound offensive lineman, and 6-8 basketball forward Vincent Edwards can’t just walk into a “regular” store and buy clothes. Edwards told Sparks about a pair of jeans he liked in one store but he had to pass up because they didn’t fit. A lot of times, Edwards will have to buy jeans bigger in the waist than his actual size to get the right fit, Sparks said.
At least in the price range student-athletes are shopping.
“Unless you get a pair of jeans that’s high in price …” Sparks said, shaking his head. “At this point in our life, we don’t have the funds to do that.
“Maybe one day, though, I can find a way to create a style for everybody, that’s universal. Tailored is a way you can do universal, I guess, but (more) like (in) a store. That’s just the stuff I think about sometimes.”
Sparks keeps his body model-ready — think near eight-pack abs and little body fat — thanks to his constant training for football. Sparks said his dad started him on a six-day-per-week workout routine when Jared was entering eighth grade, so the transition to Purdue’s lifting and conditioning programs largely was smooth.
Sparks does his part, too, by watching what he eats, he said, but he realizes football has been a blessing that benefits his other interests.
“It really falls in line because, at the end of the day, I’m going to take care of my body because I have an obligation playing the sport I love and it helps me as a person as well,” he said. “It’s always in the back of my mind. If we were going on the beach or something, it’s beneficial as well. I’m not going through this pain for no reason. My first in mind is to get prepared for the season. But it kills two birds with one stone. I go somewhere and I’m already in shape.”
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