The Man Behind the Mask: An Interview with Clemson Mascot Michael Speer
Kevin Thomas: Just so the readers can get to know you a little, what year are you and what is your major?
Michael Speer: I am a senior business management major.
KT: What high school did you attend, and did you play any sports there?
MS: I went to Wando High School, and I swam, ran cross-country, ran track, played lacrosse and played soccer.
KT: How many years have you been “The Tiger?”
MS: This is my second year. Last year I had the backup job, so I got to shoot the cannon at football games. This year I have the head job.
KT: What made you try out to be the Tiger?
MS: Well, I always loved Clemson athletics, and I wanted to do anything I could to get involved. I was at a baseball game and they made a really small announcement about becoming the Tiger, but I didn’t catch the day or time. So I went and found the announcer and asked him about it, and he gave me the flyer he had read.
KT: How hard are the tryouts?
MS: They usually last a month or two. You work baseball games or smaller events, and you’re being observed at all times. I had to try out each year. It all boils down to a day of working the spring football game, a baseball game where you are trying to perform better skits than the other guys and a physical fitness test.
KT: Did the previous mascot graduate or did you beat him out for the job?
MS: Yeah, he graduated. He helped me out so much after he did, though.
KT: How hot does it get in the suit?
MS: It gets to about 35 degrees hotter than the ambient temperature during a summer day.
KT: Is the suit pretty heavy?
MS: When it rains it is ridiculously heavy, and it also makes it that much hotter too.
KT: Do you work out to prepare for the games?
MS: Yeah, I’m in Air Force ROTC, so that keeps me in fairly good shape, and the only way to get used to the energy required is to get in the suit. That’s what the two months of tryouts are for.
KT: Are you allowed to talk while you are wearing the suit?
MS: No, the only person I’ve ever talked to is the other mascot. I don’t want to talk, I want to be able to interact with the fans without having to talk to them.
KT: How early before a game do you have to be ready?
MS: We do two or three pregame things, so I’m there three or four hours before kickoff. I have to do the Tiger Walk, things on the lawn at Littlejohn and the parade down Fort Hill.
KT: Do you get to take breaks during the game?
MS: During football games I can take a break because there’s a backup that helps out when I need to take a breather. The main thing is you just have to make sure someone is out there the whole game. During basketball I’m out there at all times.
KT: Are there certain things you are told to do during the game or do you get to free-lance most of the time?
MS: In football I have to do pushups and also pay a visit to the President’s Box during the game. Other than that, mainly just stay off the field.
KT: Are you required to go practice during the week?
MS: No, there are so many events that I’m just constantly getting practice.
KT: What are the most pushups you’ve had to do in a game?
MS: Since I’ve only been the backup, the most is 25; hopefully I’ll do a whole lot more this season.
KT: You get a scholarship for being the Tiger, right?
MS: Yeah, but that’s not why I do it. If they took it away, that would be fine; it’s just nice to have a little extra money.
KT: Do you have to do a certain number of pushups to become the Tiger?
MS: During tryouts you have to do a minimum of 50 in the suit at the end of the day.
KT: Have you had any confrontations with fans?
MS: Yeah. At the TCU game last year, I was headed to the President’s Box, and an older guy in his 40s stopped me. He handed me the inside of a ballpoint pen, and he wanted me to sign something. I could just smell the alcohol on him. I shook my head and hands, telling him I couldn’t do it, and I started to walk away. Then he grabbed me, spun me around and kicked me in the knee. So at that point I went and got a cop and had the man escorted out.
KT: How is it getting to be on the field and court during games?
MS: Pretty exciting, but the coolest part is being on the Hill before the football team runs down or in the tunnel before the basketball team comes out. It never gets old. If you could see inside my mask, I’m just smiling ear to ear every time.
KT: Do you ride around to the Hill on the bus with the team?
MS: No, actually I don’t. I just meet them at the Hill, but I might try to make that happen. That’s a great idea.
KT: Do you worry about falling down the Hill?
MS: Every time. I get up there, and there’s always that “I better not screw this up.” The main reason I don’t want to trip is so I’m not No. 1 on the “Not Top Ten” plays that week.
KT: What about the wall at football games? Are you ever afraid you’re going to fall off?
MS: Oh yeah. It’s absolutely terrifying. I’ve never fallen at a football game, but I have fallen while carrying the flag at a basketball game. I took a step and I saw the Tiger tail go under my foot right before I stepped, and I just went down.
KT: At basketball games, you’re in the huddle before the game starts, right?
MS: Yeah. It’s probably the most fun thing I do. I get so hyped up, and no one else knows what they’re saying, but they say some weird stuff. I love getting to chest bump the players when they’re announced. Trevor Booker actually busted my lip last year. He came in for the chest bump, and I didn’t get high enough. His shoulder caught me in the lip, so he still owes me for some stitches.
KT: Do you go to the road games also?
MS: Yes, I ride with the band and get to go to away football games and tournament basketball games.
KT: How hard is it to balance your classes with games and events?
MS: The biggest thing is trying to manage your time. Trying to study, do Air Force ROTC and be the mascot is tough. But like the previous mascot told me, you can “sleep when you’re dead,” and he was right.
KT: How many non-sporting events do you have to go to and make appearances?
MS: A lot more than sporting, and we go to every home varsity sport event. I’d say probably two-thirds non-sports and a third sports. I actually have a 40-year-old man’s birthday party to go to Friday night in Charlotte.
KT: Do you and the Cub work together during the game?
MS: Oh yeah, every time. We talk about where we’re going to go. The girl who plays the Cub is really funny. We’ve been working together for two years now, and we work really well together.
KT: How many pictures or autographs do you think you take on a game day?
MS: Too many to count; it’s absolutely silly how many. I can’t put a number on it, and it’s pretty hard to sign with that paw.
KT: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever had to autograph?
MS: Well, there are two things. First, this really old guy had me autograph his socks. Second, I once autographed a watermelon for a fan.
KT: Do you get to hang out with the players?
MS: If I’m walking around campus, they’ll recognize me and give me a high five or something if they see me. But that’s about it.
KT: Isn’t it kind of weird, because nobody really recognizes you while you’re walking around campus, and yet you’re the mascot that everyone is high-fiving at games?
MS: Oh yeah. The weirdest thing is I walk around campus and I’ll see the guys that sit on the first row that I interact with during the football games, and I see them and I want to go say something to them, but I know they don’t recognize me, so I have to fight that urge.
KT: Are you going to try to keep being a mascot somewhere after you graduate?
MS: Well, after graduation I’ll go to the Air Force for 4 years because I’m already contracted, but if the opportunity ever presented itself, I would do it.
KT: Will you be on the Capital One Mascot of the Year commercial this year?
MS: I don’t know how to get on that commercial, but I’m going to do everything I can to get on it though. I know the Tiger’s been on a few other commercials on ESPN, but not the Capital One commercial. It would be great publicity.
KT: What are your expectations for this upcoming football season, since you have a front row view?
MS: I’d be happy with 8 wins to be honest, that’s what I’d be happy with.
KT: Do you have any advice for someone who would like to be the Tiger?
MS: Don’t be scared to try out. Come do it, it’s a blast.
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