- Associated Press - Saturday, November 1, 2014

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) - Javar Rochester of Wilmington’s West Side wears his beard bushy, his hoodie baggy and his Eagles cap pristine.

When he shares the train with business types, they readily dismiss him as just another “thug,” he says.

But Var the Barber knows the score. “I make the same amount of money as you and probably more,” he assures himself, deflecting their derision.

Rochester, 29, escaped a life where he was one water bill away from homelessness, working on an environmental cleanup crew shoveling pig fat with toxic chemicals raining overhead.

Today, he won’t sweep up hair clippings. After all, he shears some very powerful clients.

NFL powerful.

Rochester is “down to earth - someone who I call big brother,” Eagles rookie receiver Josh Huff, a regular client, said in an email interview. “He’s sort of like my counselor. He has an answer for everything.”

Honored last month as one of Delaware’s Top 40 Under 40, Rochester splits his time shaving average folk for $20 at the two-room New Man Barber Salon on Washington Street and traveling across the Mid-Atlantic to service millionaires.

He cut the hair of Golden Tate, then a wide receiver for the Seattle Seahawks, the same day he scored a controversial, game-winning touchdown against the Green Bay Packers in 2012.

An Instagram photo, delivered to Rochester’s nearly 9,000 followers, shows him shaving Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor before his team won this year’s Super Bowl against the Denver Broncos.

“Probably cut your favorite player,” Rochester’s tagline reads.

Before the Eagles defeated the St. Louis Rams on Oct. 5, Rochester set up shop in a Marriott conference room to sharpen lines for two players on the opposing team. He wore his Eagles gear, eliciting jabs.

Every fan has his limits. He refuses to style the Dallas Cowboys.

They say a barber is more of a confidant than a bartender. Rochester knows his players’ doormen, has shared steak-and-shrimp tacos with their families and tends their crowning glories with precision.

“God gave me two eyes, two ears and one mouth,” he says, “so you can look and listen more than talk.”

Kendall Langford, defensive tackle for the Rams, prefers a dark Caesar while Rochester’s childhood best friend, Clinton McDonald, a defensive tackle for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, likes it curly on top and tapered at the sides.

Rochester’s regulars play for the Eagles, New York Jets, Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens - all places he can reach by car in less than five hours. When a visiting team like the Rams, Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers or Jacksonville Jaguars is in town, he hustles through social media to line up appointments before the game.

He asks players to pay what they can, and won’t disclose his fee.

A devout Christian, Rochester attributes his success to entrusting himself to a higher power.

“This world is too beautiful not to be successful,” he explains.

He grew up in Wilmington before relocating to Jacksonville, Arkansas, as a teenager. His mother served as a tank operator during the Gulf War. His father spent Rochester’s formative years behind bars.

During college, Rochester was pre-med and a promising baseball player courted by international teams, he says. Three of his cousins played pro ball.

Four semesters shy of graduation, he dropped everything to raise his newborn daughter.

What followed were “the worst four years of my life,” he says.

He took a string of jobs that led nowhere. He cleared out medical records for the deceased. He joined an environmental cleanup crew, pumping out a velvet-draped man cave and dodging blasts of fire in a steel mill.

He worked for a payday loan company, dialing 600 phone numbers only to sign up two customers per shift.

Rochester didn’t complain.

“Grandpa always said, ‘If you put your last name on it, you better work,’” he recalls.

But after he caught his loan manager stealing his clients, Rochester quit and turned his attention to barbering. A family member cut hair from home, grunted a lot and occasionally sliced a client’s ear. If he could earn a living, so could Rochester.

He borrowed $600 from McDonald for supplies, and landed his first job at Heavy Hitters in Wilmington, catering to a mostly Latino clientele.

It was a lean holiday season for the rookie. One day, his electricity and water were both cut off for non-payment.

Desperate, Rochester remembers persuading an inebriated client to allow him to cut his hair for half price. But the barber botched the “bald fade,” forgetting the fade part.

“What am I going to tell me wife?” the man bellowed.

Eventually Rochester got the hang of it, with the help of several mentors.

“He’s one of the guys you can’t count out in life,” McDonald says, adding that “good things happen to good people.”

Rochester penetrated the insular NFL through his connection with McDonald. One day, while visiting the defensive tackle, he left his clippers on the counter. When McDonald’s teammates arrived later, they demanded to see the barber.

Word soon spread of the talented Edward Scissorhands, a wise man beyond his years who dispensed advice about life after football and never appeared star struck. Rochester also cuts Justin Timberlake’s backup singer and rapper Wale, he says.

His colleague, New Man Barber owner Jerome Newman, is in awe.

“He gets a chance to do what he loves to do and rub elbows with the NFL,” Newman says.

During back-to-school season, Rochester gives free cuts to Philadelphia and Wilmington children. He offers the same service to single mothers on Mother’s Day.

His daughter, now 7, is a straight-A student and serious Eagles fan.

“She doesn’t know what she wants to do,” he says. “She just wants to be around superstars.”

Eventually, Rochester hopes to get his hands on actors Will Smith or Denzel Washington. President Obama could use a more chiseled cut, he says.

His dream would be to own a condo on the Riverfront, jet-setting across the country as the “official NFL barber.”

His bread-and-butter clients won’t let him leave the First State.

“Delaware is different,” he says. “It’s magnetic.”

___

Information from: The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., http://www.delawareonline.com

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