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AUBURN — Sal Cannella has always been the type of person who likes to stand out.

“I don’t really like to blend in,” the senior Auburn wide receiver said. “I’d rather be the center of attention than be in the background.”

But, in terms of appearance, there aren’t many ways to do that on the football field. Cannella has a sleeve of tattoos down his right arm and a long mane of brownish blonde hair that flows out of the back of his helmet, but at the end of the day, he’s wearing the same jersey, pads and cleats that everyone else on the roster is.

“Because football, of course, is a team sport. I love all that. But you’re constricted,” he said. “I like to do my own personalized stuff.”

Cannella’s outlet for that is fashion. There are a few guys on Auburn’s team who dress well, he said, but he’s far and away No. 1. His Instagram page, which has more than 20,000 followers, is filled with photos of him wearing clothes that he definitely did not buy at Old Navy or Kohl’s.

Graduation, like a football game, is an event where everyone is wearing the same thing — a cap and gown. Cannella set himself apart by wearing shiny silver Christian Louboutin Red Bottom shoes with spiked studs on the toe.

“The shoes just make everything pop. It could be just some plain stuff, but the shoes will make it go,” he said. “Regardless of outfit, everyone is going to look at the shoes.”

And fashion is not just a hobby. The degree Cannella earned from Auburn earlier this month is in apparel merchandising, design and production management. He already has plans in place to launch his own clothing line, NNella Clothing, after the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl against Minnesota, which will be the final game of his college football career.

The designs are mostly complete, the samples should be coming in from his overseas manufacturer soon, and the website is almost ready for launch. Cannella could be even farther along than that, but he’s “not trying to mess” with the NCAA — “they don’t want us to make any money while we’re in school,” he said.

This plan has been in the works for the past four years, Cannella said. He hails from Schaumburg, Ill., which is just 30 miles outside of Chicago, but his love of fashion was inspired by a move to Scottsdale, Ariz., to play junior college football in 2015.

“It was just a different lifestyle out there,” he said. “Everywhere you went, people were dressed up. There was just a different and higher standard of dressing and living out there, so when I was out there, it was kind of like, ‘OK, you got to catch up or you’re going to get left behind.’ So, boom, there’s a whole bunch of stores you’re not going to find in Chicago that you can find out on the west coast, so all that stuff kind of sparked my interest.”

The plan became to get to a Division I school on a football scholarship, study fashion and start his own clothing line while pursuing his dream of playing the NFL. Cannella has crossed off Nos. 1 and 2, and he’ll start on No. 3 next month.

Auburn signed Cannella as a three-star tight end out of Scottsdale Community College in the Class of 2017. He has played in 36 games as a wide receiver over the past three seasons and caught 24 passes for 293 yards and four touchdowns, the latest being a 14-yard score from quarterback Bo Nix in the Tigers’ 48-45 win over Alabama in last month’s Iron Bowl.

During that time, Cannella also learned how to sew and tailor his own clothes, a useful skill when shirts and pants don’t fit quite right. He also made a collared shirt for one of his classes, but he’s “good on that” going forward. “I’d rather just design,” he said.

The initial launch of NNella Clothing will feature two different color shirts and hoodies, so four items overall, and will be limited — Cannella is planning on having only 100 to 200 items available at release. The concept for each item takes around a month to design, from initial sketch to final product.

“It either comes to you or it just doesn’t. I don’t really reach for it,” Cannella said. “It’s kind of like a tattoo — whatever I put my name behind, I’m going to make sure it’s as nice as it can be. So if it’s something like, ‘Oh, I need to get this out,’ then no — I was in no rush.”

What Cannella is going for is high-end streetwear, which is defined as sort of a luxury version of the skate, surf and hip-hop fashion culture of the 1980s and 90s — casual leisurewear with bold logos, colors and graphics. But he doesn’t want it to be anything people could find in a casual chain story like H&M or Zara.

“I don’t know how this is going to sound, but I’m gearing it to what I, like, personally envision and what I personally like. It’s not directed toward anybody,” Cannella said. “It’s not like, ‘Oh, I’m in the South, so I got to make some stuff that people in the South are going to like.’ It’s like, if you like it, you like it. It doesn’t matter where you’re from. If you’re going to rock with it, you’re going to rock with it.”

Once Cannella comes up with the design of the piece, he’ll send that and the measurements for how it should fit to his manufacturer in Hong Kong. They make whatever adjustments are necessary, make a prototype and send pictures back to Cannella for his final corrections before sending it to production. They have also sent him different sample pieces of clothes popular on that side of the world so he can play around and get some inspiration.

Hong Kong is 14 hours ahead of the central time zone, so that means a lot of late-night communication for Cannella. The company is pretty much just him right now, outside of a little help from his parents with shipping stuff out.

Cannella would love to one day go to a Fashion Week, particularly in Paris. He would love even more to be a part of it, to see people modeling his clothes. He said he knows a lot of people in the fashion industry that have already told him that they will support him and wear his clothes to their photo and video shoots.

The primary focus is still football, of course — first on the Outback Bowl, and then on April’s NFL Draft. Cannella said he will head back to Arizona after his final game in an Auburn uniform and spend the next seven weeks there preparing for Pro Day.

His college production might not be enough to get him drafted, but he’s still 6-foot-5 and 228 pounds with leaping ability experience playing both tight end and wide receiver. That might be good enough to earn a spot on a training camp roster if he impresses the right scout during the pre-draft process.

But there are only so many hours in a day a player can spend training. Cannella plans many of the rest focusing on his other passion.

“Football is the main thing,” he said. “Because football is going to make the fashion go even further. It’s only going to bring in more revenue. The dream is to play football. That’s always been the goal. But the fashion stuff is going to be there.”

This article originally ran on annistonstar.com.

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