How a South Bend barber became the go-to guy for Notre Dame athletes

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Tyler Newsome’s haircut went viral during the College Football Playoff semifinal on Dec. 29.

As the Notre Dame punter walked on the sideline in the fourth quarter of the 30-3 Irish loss at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, ESPN cameras followed Newsome, helmet off and with a mullet that stole the spotlight.

Pictures and videos of Newsome’s haircut were quickly shared on social media. One tweet from @barstooltweetss captioned its video with “This American mullet was cut by the wings of a bald eagle.”

This American mullet was cut by the wings of a bald eagle pic.twitter.com/2VjofJq0et

— Barstool Sports (@barstooltweetss) December 30, 2018

Credit for the haircut belonged to Julio Rodriguez, a 22-year-old barber from South Bend.

“The reason it’s probably looked as good as it has is because of him,” Newsome said.

In the past two years, Rodriguez has become the go-to barber for many of Notre Dame’s male athletes. The walls of his parents’ basement on the southwest side of South Bend have the signatures to prove it.

That’s where Rodriguez, a licensed barber operating under the name Julio’s Cutz, shuffles clients through for private haircuts. The crowded basement walls, painted yellow and red, have many recognizable names scrawled on them.

The signatures of former Irish basketball players V.J. Beachem and Bonzie Colson appear behind the main barber chair. There’s a “Play Like A Champion Today” sign that includes the signatures of former ND football players Quenton Nelson, Mike McGlinchey, Equanimeous St. Brown and Julian Love. Even the names of head coach Brian Kelly’s two sons, Patrick and Kenzel, are on the walls.

Julio Rodriguez talks about working with Notre Dame athletes while cutting Aldair Alonso’s hair in his basement studio Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019 on the southwest side of South Bend.

At the end of the 2017 season, Newsome decided to try out a mullet for the Citrus Bowl. Someone else did the original mullet, but Rodriguez took over soon after.

“Ever since then, I was going to him to get my haircut,”Newsome said, “because I think he does the best job.”

Rodriguez made the trip to Texas in December to watch the Irish play in the national semifinal. It was an opportunity to check out some of his customers play in one of the biggest games in college football. But a couple days before the game, some of the players started to ask if he’d give them haircuts to freshen them up for their day in the spotlight.

Rodriguez was treating his stay as a vacation, not a business trip. But he headed to the team hotel and gave haircuts for several hours.

Newsome was on the list. Then Rodriguez started seeing his handiwork all over the internet.

“That was crazy,” Rodriguez said. “That was one of my biggest moments.”

Making connections

Rodriguez knew at an early age he wanted to become a barber. Even while a student at Washington High School, he would give haircuts to some of his friends.

He decided to turn his passion into a career and enrolled at Rated Next Barber Stylist School in LaPorte.

While still in barber school, Rodriguez first connected with Notre Dame athletes in 2016. He approached Beachem and Colson at a football tailgate and asked if they needed haircuts. At the time, it wasn’t exactly part of a business plan.

“To be honest, it was just fun,” Rodriguez said. “I was just like, ‘Man, that’s dope.’ I get to see my haircuts on TV. I’d do that stuff for free if I could ... Who wouldn’t want to cut their hair?”

The players, however, had to pay him to avoid breaking NCAA rules about accepting gifts. Beachem, a senior at the time, admitted he was a little skeptical. But he was looking for a new barber, and he already knew someone who had been going to Rodriguez. He also learned that Rodriguez and a friend spent a day in September that year offering free haircuts to homeless people in South Bend.

That was enough to convince Beachem to meet at the house of Rodriguez’s parents and head to the basement.

“It was legit,” Beachem said. “I came back to practice the next day and everybody was going crazy. ‘Yo, who cut your hair? Where you get that cut from?’

“Slowly but surely from then on, everybody started going to Julio from our team.”

Colson, then a junior, was also looking for a new barber. Rodriguez happened to introduce himself at the perfect time.

“He always worked with us and was very lenient with his schedule,” Colson said. “He loves what he does. He’s really dedicated to his craft.”

Rodriguez’s popularity with the basketball team spread to the football team.

He became a hot commodity even though another local barber — Joe Davis, aka “Barber Joe” — was available once a week during the football season at a barber chair in the Guglielmino Athletics Complex on campus.

When players had to take team pictures in 2017, Rodriguez said, he had people at his parents’ house past 2 a.m.

“One of them was sleeping on my couch waiting,” he said.

Eventually a second barber chair was added at the football complex, and the program invited Rodriguez to take part in the weekly haircuts. Every Thursday night during the 2018 season, Rodriguez and Davis were available for a few hours to cut hair.

That hasn’t stopped players from continuing to schedule appointments with Rodriguez at his place.

“It was somewhere I can go away and get away from Notre Dame life,” said former Irish running back Dexter Williams, who started getting his hair cut by Rodriguez regularly in 2018. “It was somewhere I can go and relax, kick it, get a haircut and play a couple video games with Julio.”

Rodriguez estimates he’s given haircuts to every member of the current men’s basketball team and roughly 90 percent of the football team. He now also has access to a barber chair in the men’s locker room of Notre Dame’s new basketball facility.

Recently, men’s soccer and baseball players have reached out to Rodriguez as well. He’s proven to be versatile with all kinds of haircuts.

“Anything you need, he basically can do it,” Williams said. “He’s very creative.”

Rodriguez now has a TV in his basement, complete with Netflix, and some clients play video games while they’re getting a haircut. And when they’re done, they sign the wall.

   View this post on Instagram

Versatile ✌ #barbershopconnect #mullet

A post shared by Julio Rodriguez (@julioscutz) on Dec 10, 2018 at 3:17pm PST

What’s next?

Notre Dame athletes have become more than half of Rodriguez’s business. People reach out to him on social media, but most new business comes from people he knows through someone else.

“What I’ve been doing lately is a lot of home visits,” he said. “That’s more fun for me.”

Rodriguez said local barbershops have offered him jobs, but he prefers being his own boss. He’s had Realtors looking for potential locations for him to open his own shop. He may lose some of the exclusivity that comes with his current setup, but Rodriguez likes the idea of something new.

“That’s my main goal right now,” he said, “is to try to get a barbershop going.”

He will be banking partly on the loyalty of his current customers, and there’s reason to believe they’d follow him. Former Irish basketball player Demetrius Jackson liked Rodriguez’s haircuts so much that he was flying him out to Philadelphia when Jackson played with the 76ers last fall.

Neighbors notice when a nice car pulls up to the Rodriguez home. It usually belongs to a professional athlete stopping by to get a haircut when back in town.

Williams has already told Rodriguez he’s going to need a haircut when he returns to town in March for Notre Dame’s Pro Day. Whenever Colson returns, he’ll likely hit up Rodriguez, too.

Beachem, who plays for the Windy City Bulls in the NBA G League, made a visit while he was in town for the Notre Dame football season opener against Michigan. Rodriguez even came out to Chicago when Beachem was traded to Windy City in November.

His relationships as a barber have turned into friendships.

“One, he’s personable. He has a good personality. People can hold a conversation with him,” Beachem said. “Two, he’s just good at what he does. He’s really good.”

Julio Rodriguez talks about working with Notre Dame athletes while cutting Aldair Alonso’s hair in his basement studio Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019 on the southwest side of South Bend.

   View this post on Instagram

Versatile ☘️ #barbershopconnect #ndmbb

A post shared by Julio Rodriguez (@julioscutz) on Feb 12, 2018 at 3:29pm PST

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Julio Rodriguez talks about working with Notre Dame athletes while cutting Aldair Alonso’s hair in his basement studio Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019 on the southwest side of South Bend.
Julio Rodriguez talks about working with Notre Dame athletes in his basement studio Feb. 7 on the southwest side of South Bend.
Julio Rodriguez talks about working with Notre Dame athletes while cutting Aldair Alonso's hair in his basement studio Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019 on the southwest side of South Bend.
Julio Rodriguez talks about working with Notre Dame athletes while cutting Aldair Alonso's hair in his basement studio Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019 on the southwest side of South Bend.