words & images // Zac Dubasik
While you may have heard that football is a game of inches, adidas is looking at it in a slightly different way – as a game of ounces. Three ounces to be exact. That’s the difference, according to adidas, between their new adiZero 5-Star football cleat and its nearest competitor.
At a mere 6.9 ounces, adidas claims to have the lightest football cleat ever made in the 5-Star. How were they able to get so light? And how will it hold up to the rigors of a football season? To give firsthand insight into those questions, we caught up with adidas Category Manager of Football, Jeff McGillis, for an exclusive interview on the adiZero 5-Star.
Zac Dubasik: Prior to the 5-Star, where was adidas at with football cleats? What inspired the creation of the 5-Star?
Jeff McGillis: We’ve been working towards a lighter-weight product for a couple of years now. We had the lightest cleat in the market for 2010, but it was 8.6 ounces. It was called the adiZero Scorch. The competitor product was relatively close to that same weight, which was 9.6 to 9.9 ounces. As we went out to focus groups, and seven-on-seven tournaments with high school kids, light weight is still the most important thing that comes up every single time. We still believe it’s the most important purchase driver of all those decisions among high school kids. So, we wanted to take it to another level. With this shoe, we are able to blow the doors off by going to 6.9 ounces.
What were the keys to get from 8.6 ounces all the way down to 6.9 ounces? That’s a pretty drastic drop.
There’re two key ones. The main one is the plate itself. We went with a completely new material. We are the only brand that we know of that’s using this material for plates, and we were able to reduce the weight [of the] plate by 50 percent on its own. We are calling it the Sprint Frame Plate. That’s the first, and most important way. The key with getting the weight out of cleats is that the majority of the weight is in the plate. So, that’s the most important thing to focus on to pull weight out. The next thing that we did was came up with a completely new upper material which we are calling SPRINTSKIN. It’s a single layer synthetic, which allows you to have a much thinner material, but still keep the same stability and strength of a typical synthetic material. Those were the two main ingredients for getting the product lighter.
How big of a challenge was it from a stability standpoint to go so much lighter, but still be durable?
That’s definitely the challenge. It’s easy to make a lightweight shoe; it’s hard to make a lightweight shoe that performs. Because of the material we used for the plate, you can get a thinner plate, but apply geometry through the plate to strengthen it as well. Even though this is a lighter plate than what we’ve had in the past, it’s actually our strongest plate through the midfoot that we’ve ever had using any other materials. Also, on the upper, we used the SPRINTSKIN material that I talked about, and we also reinforced it with TPU support bands through the midfoot. They go from the base of the plate, all the way up into the eyestay. All of that is to reinforce for quick cuts and lateral movements.
Was it a challenge to find the right pattern for the ridges in the plate?
All three of the ridges that come up are to strengthen the material without adding weight. You carve it out to reduce the weight, and then you keep the highest points and the most important points. … A lot of the ridges go where they are because we had to stop them at a certain point. We wanted the flex to be here [points to forefoot], but you don’t want any flex in the midfoot. That was all strengthened to the mid part, and then it was reduced to flex in the right zone. That’s why they end exactly where they do.
Aesthetically, there’s almost like a print type treatment on the upper. What’s the story to that?
Some of that is more cosmetic than anything, but it’s to keep the speed going throughout the product. We’ve changed the positioning of the three stripes. Typically, we have them coming across the midfoot, but we’ve changed them so they go from toe to heel. And then this clear print goes across it. There’s additional support that we’ve put underneath it that you can kind of see x-raying through. You’ll almost see an “extra” toe cap that you can see x-raying through the toe. And then the TPU frame that goes on the inside, you’ll see x-raying through when you look at the quarter as well.
Did any particular athletes give input into the design and testing of the 5-Star?
We tested the product with C.J. Spiller [Buffalo Bills] and Eric Berry [Kansas City Chiefs]. We gave them early prototypes, and they actually got a chance to wear them in the final game of the NFL season, which was Jan. 2nd of this year. Also, we tested it with some of our key collegiate properties. Jeff [Morris, Product Manager of adidas Football] and I went out to schools like Michigan, Tennessee, Cincinnati, Mississippi State, UCLA and Indiana, and we tested it during their spring practices and got feedback then. We even had players that didn’t give the product back [laughs]. They kept it and wore it throughout the season, which is funny, because we gave them an all-black shoe. There was no reason for them to really keep it other than it just performed better than what they had in the past. We did another round of testing at the beginning of the season. We started it in Sept., and again, some of the equipment managers actually held certain pairs, because they had a couple players – wide receivers specifically – that wanted to wear them throughout the season.
The combine was another cool story. Jeff and I and a couple of other guys from the group all went to Indianapolis. We were handing out pairs of the 5-Star to any of the athletes that were coming though to run their 40s. And it ended up that the fastest time at every single position, other than offensive linemen, was wearing the 5-Star when they ran their 40. The fastest wide receiver, the fastest running back, the fastest safety, the fastest DB were all running in the 5-Star, which was pretty cool. The reaction we got kind of fueled interest in the brand from the players’ standpoint. We ended up signing Prince Amukamara, who is a defensive back from Nebraska and will be going in the top 10 in the draft. And we also signed Titus Young [Boise State] and Jarell Jernigan [Troy State], two of the fastest wide receivers coming up in the draft. We signed DeMarco Murray, who is a running back out of Oklahoma, and the last one was Kyle Rudolph, who is a tight end out of Notre Dame. All of those players are considered some of the fastest players at their position, and the reason they joined us was because of the 5-Star.
Could you talk about the specifics of the traction pattern?
The traction pattern is completely new. We now have a triangle-shaped stud. Typically there are round-shaped studs, which we use. There’re two main purposes. One is that it shows direction in the actual shape of the triangle. And the other is that from the hard edge of the back side of the triangle, you get a better distribution of forces. The top three are all aligned for the initial push off and acceleration, and then the others are for lateral movements, both in support and in direction. It’s something completely new. The other thing that came out of it is that we rounded the edges of the triangle. What this has done, and this is going to get a little scientific on you, but the translational traction is better than it’s ever been. Typically, if you increase translational, which means straight-ahead speed, you also increase the ability to be injured, so that your foot gets stuck in the grass. With this one, we’ve actually done the complete opposite. By changing the shape of these studs, we’ve increased the straight-ahead speed, but also reduced the amount of rotational traction, which means there’s less chance of injury. We are the only ones that we know of that are trying that and using that shape. It’s a completely different approach.
What does the 5-Star feature as far as cushioning?
Cushioning is an interesting one. When you go light weight, that’s usually one of the criticisms, that you take a lot of the cushioning out. With this product, we actually put a molded PU sockliner in it, which is a lot better in terms of the cushioning properties than in EVA. So, even though we made the shoe 6.9 ounces, we could have actually made it a lot lighter if we wouldn’t have put a PU sockliner in. The PU sockliner alone weighs over an ounce. By doing that, we made the conscious decision that we wanted to make sure this has enough cushioning in it, otherwise, guys won’t wear it. That was the purpose behind it.
Could you talk about the design of the collar and how the heel is stabilized?
The collar is kind of a function of the plate. The plate wraps up around the heel. Typically we have an internal heel counter, but on this one we have an external heel counter, which holds the heel in place. The collar is constructed around that, where it’s again holding the heel down. The location that it’s at, and the amount of padding that we’ve put around the collar – that’s all to hold the heel firmly in place.
Are things you’ve learned in building this shoe going to be applied to models geared towards other positions as well?
This shoe is actually changing how we go about building product for the future, for all positions. We’ve taken a lot of the learnings from this shoe, and now we are applying them to shoes that we build for linemen and non-skill position players. What we are finding [is] that everyone on the field wants to be faster. It doesn’t matter what position you play; it’s all just relative. You still want to be the fastest offensive lineman, defensive lineman, or whatever position you play. So we are finding out a lot from this, and then transferring it to future product. Some of it is reflected in the current line, but because a lot of the learnings are on the plate, it will come out in the future.
Available now: adidas adiZero 5-Star