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'Team barber' gives fans at camp free cuts - Bills logo optional

As Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor signed autographs at training camp, about 20 people stood in line at a pop-up barbershop under a tent in a nearby parking lot.

Fans were skipping the Bills practice and the opportunity to collect autographs to get a Bills logo cut into their hair by Signature Cutz.

Signature Cutz, which calls itself the unofficial barber of the Buffalo Bills, cuts the hair of nearly every Bills player in the Bills locker room every Friday during football season, said Marlon Kerner, the team's director of player engagement and alumni.

During training camp, the Buffalo barbershop also offers Bills fans free haircuts and face painting every Sunday at the team's training camp at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford.

Signature Cutz's  barbers donate their time and skills at the training camp because of their love of the fans, said Kenny Harris, owner of Signature Cutz.

Last Sunday, the barbers were still unpacking their gold barber's cases at the training camp when fan Jesse Schmigiel, of Lancaster, walked up.

"How much you charging for a cut?" Schmigiel asked.

"Free," said barber Charles "Ronnie" Burley III.

"Well then, let's get weird," Schmigiel said, throwing his hands in the air.

It didn't get that weird. Schmigiel just had his current cut refreshed: short on the sides, longer on the top.

But the three barber chairs in the Signature Cutz tent were almost constantly occupied by fans for the next six hours.

Two of the four barbers on duty – Burley and Justin "JuPac" Hawkins – artfully etched the Bills' logo into the hair of fans, most of whom were young boys.

Signature Cutz barber Charles "Ronnie" Burley creates a Bills logo on the scalp of Jamestown resident Dan Mealy at Bills training camp at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford Sunday. (James P. McCoy / Buffalo News)

The connection

Before becoming the Bills' unofficial barber, Harris pursued a career as an NFL player.

In 2003 he was attending the San Francisco 49ers' training camp as a free agent and made it to final cuts before being released due to a hamstring injury, Harris said. In 2005, Harris said, he was invited to Bills' training camp as a free agent, but he did not make the team.

So he began cutting hair to make a living.

Harris took a job at Sean's House of Masters Barbershop. In 2010, he opened his first Signature Cutz barbershop. The shop moved three times in the past seven years to accommodate a growing clientele. It is now located at 2312 Main St. in Buffalo. Harris said he started with three chairs; now he has 13.

During the shop's beginnings, former Bills receiver Stevie Johnson approached Harris. He saw Harris' cuts on social media and wanted him to be his barber.

"Stevie opened the pipeline up for me with the Bills," Harris said.

From there he went on a sports marketing spree. He connected with a few more Bills players and started getting shoutouts on ESPN radio. By 2012, his team of barbers was cutting most of the Bills' hair. Tyrod Taylor, LeSean McCoy, Sammy Watkins and head coach Sean McDermott are among the shop's customers.

"It's really been a blessing. It has," Harris said.

Signature Cutz trims just about every player's hair except for two or three players who go to a different barber, said Kerner, the Bills official.

"It really does feel like a barbershop when he's around," Kerner said.

Players wait for their cuts in the locker room. Like at a shop they ask, "How many are in front of me?" Kerner said.

Often Harris will accommodate players by staying later in the locker room or returning to give a trim to a player with a time conflict.

"It makes it easier that he's a former player," Kerner said. "He understands what the schedule is like."

Not all of the players know Harris once tried out for the Bills, Kerner said.

"Kenny's a guy who really transitioned well after the game and players need to see that. They need to see that they can fall back doing something that they love," Kerner said. "It's really a perfect fit."

Signature Cutz barber Elvis Millet gives Joshua Strater a haircut in a tent at Bills training camp Sunday. (James P. McCoy / Buffalo News)

Putting the logo on heads

It takes the Signature Cutz barbers 10 to 15 minutes to cut a Bills logo into a customer's hair.

Burley and Hawkins approach those haircuts differently. Both start with the line going through the buffalo, making sure it is long enough to accommodate the body. But Burley carves out the legs first and Hawkins the head.

On Sunday, Hawkins held a Bills football as reference in his left hand while he cut hair with his right. After about four haircuts he had the logo memorized. Burley rested a Bills hat on the left arm of the barber chair where he worked, leaving both his hands free. He kept it there all day as a reference.

"Wow," people walking behind the Signature Cutz tent exclaimed. They stopped and peeked at the heads with logos. Some took pictures and videos.

"It's like you're performing," Burley said of cutting hair at the Bills' training camp.

When Colby Paige, 7, climbed out of the barber's chair, his mom, Sharon Paige, of the Village of Hilton, turned him around, photographing the Bills' logo on the back of his head with her smartphone.

"Awesome," he said, with a toothy grin lighting up his face.

Colby had visited several barbershops with his mom, searching for someone to cut into his hair the logo of his favorite team. Every barber shook their head, "No."

The 45-minute wait in line at the Signature Cutz tent was worth it, Sharon Paige said.

Another mom, Teresa Farr, of Rochester, brought her son Anthony to the tent for his first professional haircut.

"If the Bills trust them, I trust them," Farr said.

Anthony, 6, squirmed in the chair, with the unfamiliar buzz of the clippers on his scalp. Anthony raised his eyebrows in astonishment when he saw the logo on his head. "Whoa," he said, drawing out the word.

Harris said his barbers have stayed as late as midnight doing cuts at the Bills' training camp. If somebody was left who wanted a cut, Harris said he wasn't going to turn them away.

"It's all about making the fans happy," Harris said.

Sunday, the last hair fell to the ground at 5:47 p.m., more than an hour and a half after practice ended. The men cleaned their scissors and clippers into their gold travel cases. Looking out into the parking lot they weren't surprised to see that once again Signature Cutz was the last of about 10 businesses to close up their tent at the training camp.

"Man. Why are we always the last ones here?" Burley asked with feigned frustration.

"It's your fault," Harris replied jokingly. "Maybe if you guys weren't so dang good people wouldn't stay so long."

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