Being a college mascot at a big-time sports program is a rigorous job. It's a lot of traveling, improvisation, and a ton of training. But if you're cut out for it, it can lead to a full scholarship.
We spoke with a student at a big-time sports program in the SEC who just went through mascot tryouts.
Here's what it's like to put on that giant bobble-head costume and run around like a maniac.
Note: Since mascots are supposed to maintain anonymity, we can't reveal this person's name or specific school
Becoming a college mascot can be a year-long process, starting with mascot summer camp.
You've heard of cheer camp and football camp, but it turns out mascots have a camp to attend as well. It's a one to two week summer program where students from all over the nation go to learn the ropes of being the silent figure.
"At camp they teach you techniques," says the student. "They teach you how to handle different situations, like what you should do if you scare a little kid. It gets the campers used to being mascots."
The camp isn't mandatory for all mascots. It's typically attended by high schoolers who are looking to become college mascots, or students who have already been chosen as mascots; they attend with their school's cheer squad.
Only 3 or 4 students get to be mascots. They attend every home game, from swim meets to football games, and travel to all big events.
"Tryouts start in the spring for the upcoming semester," says the student. "Mascots go to every sporting event throughout the entire year while working on their skit for Nationals, which is in the spring. Mascots attend Nationals with the cheerleaders. It's an all-day, everyday type of job."
Typically, says this student, there are two main mascots and one mascot with a lesser role. They aren't highly coveted positions though. Only seven people showed up to mascot tryouts at the student's school last spring including three mascots who were returning and two incoming freshmen.
The costumes are surprisingly light-weight. The big bobble head straps on like a helmet.
Costumes aren't all smelly and recycled, says the student. Each mascot at the student's school received a new costume that he or she didn't have to share. "It was like a onesie pajama that zipped up the front," the student recalls of the attire. "It was really light. You just slipped your feet into it and stuck your hands in the gloves. The head was like a skateboarding helmet. All you had to do was stick it on and buckle it."
The student says that, while there was no peripheral vision in the costume, it was easy to see straight ahead once the head piece was strapped on.
Some schools have height requirements for mascots. This student says s/he didn't encounter one; the costumes were one-size-fits-all.
Tryouts are an all-day affair, preceded by a mandatory mascot clinic.
"Before mascot tryouts, there was a one-day clinic for two hours that was mandatory," says the student. "We got into the mascot costume and walked around for a few minutes to get used to everything. They showed us who the mascot is and what he does."
The clinic took place in the same facility where the football team practices. A cheer clinic was also going on, which was fitting since the mascot interacts closely with cheerleaders during games.
"We walked around with the cheerleaders and their parents and entertained the kids," the student recalls of the clinic.
Tryouts were a few months later on a Saturday towards the end of the spring semester.
Tryouts are just one giant improv session.
"First, we got into the costume and spent fifteen minutes reacting to different situations," says the student. "The head mascot from the year prior called out what we had to do, and we had to act scared, happy, or depressed. After that, we went to the gym and everyone had to perform two-minute skits with props they had made."
Students perform individually in front of the cheer coach and cheerleaders who judge them based on their creativity and interaction with the squad.
The solo sessions were followed by another one-on-one session with the cheer coach, who gave the students one last improv task. "For me, I was in the shower and I was supposed to be late for school. The coach gave me a brush as a prop. Then I had to pretend the water was too cold, jump out quickly and pretend to be freezing. Things like that," says the student.
More cheerleader interaction followed. "We had to get with five cheerleaders," says the student. "The coach would say, 'OK, it's about to be kickoff at a football game, what do you do?' and we'd have to react.
The mascots were told they always needed to be moving because someone would always be watching them during games. "Even when you're resting, if you're standing doing nothing you're breaking character," says the student. "You have to do even the littlest movement, like sway back and forth or swing your tail."
After all potential mascots performed individually, they were told they'd receive an email indicating whether or not they were called back.
If you want to be a mascot, you had better come with relevant work experience.
The student we spoke with wasn't chosen to be one of the school's mascots, although the cheer coach said s/he had potential. "They took all three students who returned and then asked two incoming freshmen back for interviews. They said they were going for people with more experience, which was completely understandable."
The two incoming freshmen had been mascots all throughout high school.
Being a mascot is a lot of work but there are some pretty sweet benefits -- like a potential full-ride scholarship.
Some schools offer their mascots full, half or book scholarships.
In addition to the potential monetary reward, being a mascot can be personally rewarding too.
"I wanted to be a mascot because it seemed like a really fun thing to do," says the student. "You get to be a completely different person -- you can mess with anyone and have fun with little kids who always want to take pictures with you. I love making people laugh."
For more on what it takes to be a mascot at a big-time sports school, check out this video Duke University put together about what it takes to be a Blue Devil: