CHAMBLEE, Ga. - Technique is nice. Preparation is good. The real key in the NFL, however, may be hidden under the helmets.
"You're kind of taught, you look good, you play good," said veteran NFL defensive back Sherrod Martin. "Sometimes your jersey's right, your cleats are right, your pants fit right. The haircut is just the icing on the cake."
Martin would know. The former Griffin High School star played six seasons in the league -- and he may still add to that total. In the meantime, he's making sure former teammates look their best; and giving the same superstar treatment to anybody that ends up in his chair.
Martin is a master barber, working out of Clipper Kings in Chamblee. He got his first pair of trimmers back in 10th grade, and for a teenager who loved drawing, cutting hair came naturally.
"I just realized it was an art," said Martin. "It's basically like taking a blank canvas and turning it into a masterpiece."
Martin cut hair in his neighborhood growing up and for teammates in college. After playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2014 NFL season, he decided he needed a plan ("not a backup plan," he insists, just a plan going forward). He started a master barber training program in the offseason. That work paused when he spent training camp and the latter part of the regular season with the Chicago Bears.
In Chicago, however, Martin got some real life practice -- in the form of Bears teammates wanting to look their best when the helmets came off.
"Kind of showed what I can do, more and more it was just picking up," said Martin. "More and more guys, getting the opportunity to work on my craft."
After that season ended, he finished his training and started working full-time. He also still works out like always, waiting for an NFL team to give him another opportunity. That means early mornings in the gym, afternoons at the barbershop and nights at home with his wife LeShonda and 3-month-old son Jayce.
His business is growing, thanks in part to a vibrant social media presence, but also word of mouth. He works with current and former NFL players, including Falcons linebacker LaRoy Reynolds -- they played together in Chicago and Jacksonville. Other clients include former UGA star receiver Mohamed Massaquoi
"When you're in it, you need everything superb and you play like it," said Martin. "You feel like it. You act like it. You do your job better when you feel better about yourself."
With Reynolds, who stopped in a couple days after getting back in town from a game at Seattle, Martin talks about life, family, but also some football. He can relate, of course, having played the game for so long -- including his first four seasons with the Carolina Panthers.
"Best cut every time," said Reynolds, the Falcons linebacker.
Martin also works to give back to the community. He lights up when talking about his youngest clients, and is maybe most proud of seeing them walk out of the barbershop with confidence. He also does charity work, including this past summer giving free haircuts to kids.
"Takes a village to raise a child," said Martin. "I had people with all kinds of hands on me, it's only right that I pay it forward and try to be a positive role model and help kids out also."
Martin's NFL dream is still buzzing, much like the din of activity around his new workspace at Clipper Kings. If his NFL career is over, however, his future as Sherrod the Barber looks just as good as his clients' fresh haircuts.