It all started at the place where “Rocky Top” reigns supreme, where the orange and white are worn proudly in all their checkered glory.
Before becoming an assistant coach at Maryland in March 2018, AJ Bonetti was an assistant coach in Knoxville, with Tennessee volleyball. There, he and several other assistant coaches had an idea.
“I wanna say it started probably three years ago,” Bonetti told Testudo Times. “A group of us there started to get into some colorful socks because the options at Tennessee are orange and orange.”
You read that correctly. Socks.
“We had to get creative with our socks and a few of us were able to do that,” Bonetti said. “With that sorted, we started the whole hashtag and the whole daily game day socks and it sort of grew from there.”
That hashtag, #gamedaysocks, has been a staple of Bonetti’s match day dress and Twitter. As he sits on the Maryland volleyball bench during matches, some fun sock design is always peeking out of his shoes.
However, the friendly competition between him and the other assistant coaches at Tennessee didn’t happen in Knoxville.
It started last year, after everyone had left the program and gone on to coach at other schools.
“We just kept the tradition going and from there, the friendly competition started,” Bonetti said. “Whether it’s using puns or alliterations or other things that made sense in regards to who you might have been playing, it turned into the whole ‘Who can do it better?’ type deal.”
Once Bonetti came to Maryland, the trend became very noticeable, especially to head coach Adam Hughes, who has chosen not to mess with Bonetti’s sock game.
“If you know AJ, that’s kind of how he is. Business and there’s a little bit of a jovial, fun side to him,” Hughes said. “He’s got a good energy around him and I think this is one way where he’s not a flashy person, but he can show off some his personality through his sock game.”
While Hughes can’t hang with the crazy socks, other players on the team have caught on to Bonetti’s tactics and have put up some solid efforts.
It takes time to develop a collection, especially socks. Bonetti mentioned some of his coaching friends bringing out bearded socks or taco socks, which he owns a few of, including some stylish Tacosaurus socks.
His advantage is that players aren’t able to wear flashy socks during games, having to stick with the standard uniforms and solid-colored Under Armour socks provided through the athletic program.
However, during practice, those rules don’t exist, so he’s faced some stiff competition on the court.
“We’ve got Emma [Schriner] and Allegra [Rivas]. They’ve got their crazy socks all the time, so I think they’re definitely in contention for competing with him,” junior setter Nicole Alford said. “I don’t know if anyone can truly take the crown cause AJ’s got some strong sock game, but we’ve definitely got some competitors for it. He’s gotta watch out.”
Many times, it’s the first thing players, coaches or even recruits will see when he comes out onto the court, and it’s a credit to Bonetti’s light-hearted personality.
“I see his socks and I’m like ‘That’s awesome. We’re gonna have a good day,’” Alford said. “If AJ’s sock game is strong, which it always is, I always think that we’re gonna have a good day.”
One thing that’s unique is how he acquires and continues to build his collection. Bonetti will get new socks sent from boosters and even players.
However, arguably his favorite place to stock up on new designs to pace the competition is Sock It To You, the airport version of Baltimore’s Harborplace sock store, located in Concourse C of the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI).
“Luckily, BWI has a sock fancy place and it’s literally in the airport every time we fly, so it’s nice to keep it fresh,” Bonetti said.
The tradition is a credit to sticking with the routine, every match, pulling out a new design that is a physical expression of personality and having fun at something that can be very serious.
Calling it a habit might be a stretch, but it’s definitely become ingrained in his head and it’s arguably the most important part of his match day attire.
“It’s one of those thing where with time and persistence, if you do it every game, you’re gonna get some footage out there for that,” Bonetti said. “The move to Maryland certainly helped that, but it realistically was something that you just are consistent with and I think that really helps too.”
As for his favorite pair, with around 40-50 different and unique designs, it’s tough to single out one. Instead of choosing one, he decided to choose two, and both are very important to him.
“My wife, Jamie got me for like Father’s Day I think last year, is a pair that says ‘The Original’ and then it says ‘The Upgrade,’” Bonetti said. “It’s a pair for myself and my four-year-old son.”
His other favorite? The socks that Maryland wins the most in, though that hasn’t been tracked yet. That will be tough since his collection will continue to grow, but don’t be surprised to see that pop up soon.
Regardless of result, Bonetti hopes this will continue and he doesn’t see this stopping anytime soon.
“Realistically here or the next stop, you’re certainly going to have the ability to put out a great effort,” Bonetti said. “I think personally, it’s just always keeping it fresh.”