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USC's defensive linemen aim to be a cut above

DaJohn Harris, Nick Perry, Armond Armstead and cohorts have become an effective, close-knit unit, and it extends beyond the field, to a weekly bonding ritual — haircuts at a shop owned by Harris' dad.

September 16, 2011|By Gary Klein
  • USC defensive linemen Armond Armstead, left, and Nick Perry, right, share a laugh with Andre Harris, father of teammate DaJohn Harris, during a haircut at The Pass Babershop in Los Angeles.
USC defensive linemen Armond Armstead, left, and Nick Perry, right, share… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

It's Thursday afternoon at The Pass, typically a slow time for the barbershop in South Los Angeles.

But then The Pass rush begins.

DaJohn Harris bursts through the doorway, followed by USC football teammate Nick Perry. Armond Armstead is right behind.

With Syracuse coming to the Coliseum on Saturday, the Trojans defensive linemen are here for a game-week ritual.

They've come for haircuts.

"If you look good, you play good," Perry says.

They've come for conversation.

"In a barbershop," Armstead says, "you can talk about basically anything."

But mainly, they've come to be together — away from the football field and school.

"It puts us on a different level of bonding," Harris says.

The single-chair shop is owned and operated by Andre Harris, DaJohn's father and proprietor of the Vernon Avenue establishment for 20 years.

USC banners, poster-sized photos of the three linemen and another of former Trojans nose tackle Jurrell Casey adorn one wall. Framed jerseys of former NFL players Jack Tatum, Lester Hayes and Charles Jordan hang among photos on others.

Andre Harris played football at Jefferson High and Cal State Fullerton. He has coached youth league football in South L.A. for years.

He is a barber by trade, he says, but a listener at heart.

"Anything they want to talk about," he says of his customers, "we talk about it."

When his son arrives with his teammates, the conversation turns to fashion — first jeans, then sneakers and then shorts.

"Hey man," DaJohn says to Armstead. "No wonder I couldn't find my shorts. You've got them on!"

They joke, laugh and try to follow the plot of an old black-and-white Western playing on the flat-screen TV.

Michael Street mans a three-chair shoeshine stand in the shop's anteroom. At the base is a grimy UCLA floor mat.

"That's where you wipe your feet at," Street says, laughing.

The quirky room also includes 1980s-era video game machines such as Ms. Pac-Man and Centipede, an aquarium, a display case of T-shirts for sale and an old television also tuned to the Westerns channel.

Street, 51, has shined shoes for more than three decades, seven at The Pass.

"You can see that they're comfortable here," Street says of the players. "They feel like they're at home."

The players met in 2008. DaJohn Harris, who played at Gardena Serra High, was a redshirt freshman. Perry was a freshman from Michigan, Armstead a freshman from Sacramento.

"When guys come from other places they come looking for a place to get their hair cut," DaJohn says. "I would say it's a pretty important thing in a man's life. You want somebody to be able to cut your hair and, I mean, my dad cuts well."

After they get their cuts, the players retire to seats along the walls. They munch on burritos as Andre Harris settles into his barber's chair.

Talk turns to unbeaten Syracuse and how the linemen plan to deal with quarterback Ryan Nassib.

The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Perry is completely healthy for the first time in his college career. The speedy end has three tackles for losses, two sacks among them, and also has deflected a pass and forced a fumble.

"I'm going to get two sacks," Perry tells Andre.

"So am I," says the 6-4, 310-pound DaJohn, a tackle who has made three tackles for losses and deflected two passes.

Their play has helped spark a Trojans defensive line that also includes tackle Christian Tupou and end Wes Horton — "They like to keep their hair long," DaJohn says, explaining their absence — as well as tackle George Uko and end Devon Kennard.

Meanwhile, Armstead is waiting to find out if USC will clear him to play. He has been sidelined since spring while undergoing tests after experiencing chest pain.

But Armstead is upbeat when the players leave the shop. So are Perry and Harris.

A metal barber's sign on the outside of the building reads: "Look Better, Feel Better."

As the linemen depart, it's clear that they do.

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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