Being Brutus: Inside The Head Of OSU's Mascot

You've seen Brutus Buckeye at just about every Ohio State sporting event, but what does it take to put on the head of the most famous Buckeye of them all?

Being Brutus Buckeye sounds easy enough – put on a pair of scarlet pants with a white towel tucked into the waistband, a striped shirt, a pair of shoulder pads, and a round head with a smiling face and ballcap, then root on the Buckeyes to your heart’s content.

Of course, actually becoming the Ohio State mascot entails much more than that. There’s an intense tryout process, a bevy of stunts and skills to learn, a never-ending quest to perfect the character’s signature walk and mannerisms, excited kids and fans to dodge, and sweat – lots of sweat.

Former Brutuses – Brutii? – Emily Williams, Ray Sharp and Ian Schmitt detailed the skills mastered, memories made and dangers avoided at the luncheon event Being Brutus, hosted in April by the Ohio State University Alumni Association at the Longaberger Alumni House.

Yes, the job is fun and rewarding, and yes, it’s a lot of work. Yes, the costume – particularly the head – is hot. And yes, “fans are a little touchy,” as Schmitt put it during the hour-long event.

But it sounds like it was all worth it for the three Ohioans who sacrificed their time and in some ways social lives to become Ohio State’s premier ambassador for multiple years during their college careers.

“Once you get the hang of it, you just become Brutus,” said Williams (née Moor), a native of Lima who served as Brutus from 2001-03. “You don’t even think about it. It’s just instinctual at that point. You just become it.”

And how does one become Brutus?

“A random Buckeye falls out of a tree,” joked Sharp, a Westerville native. Now the head of the Brutus program within Ohio State’s spirit squad, Sharp donned the costume from 2010-13.

Of course, there’s more than that. The tryout process to become one of six Buckeyes to don the costume each year – though, the former Brutuses were quick to point out, there is officially only one Brutus, and he’s never seen at more than one at one time except in extreme circumstances – approaches grueling.

There are clinics at which prospective mascots can learn from coaches and past mascots, an interview process and a tryout which this year took place April 25.

“It’s really hard, and it should be. This is the greatest university in the world, and the requirements should be stringent,” said Williams, who has worked on the committee that picks the students in the costume.

“We don’t expect you to have it all figured out, but we look for certain qualifiers – do you have the propensity to be a leader? Are you a leader now and we can work with you to become an optimal leader? Are you someone who can really be an ambassador for this university? Are you someone we can sit on an airplane next to Archie Griffin or Urban Meyer? Those are the kinds of things we look for.”

And once one is chosen to be Brutus, it’s still no easy task. There are occasional Bobcat attacks – the famous incident in 2011 when Ohio University’s mascot attacked Brutus before the game – as well as more commonplace issues such as aggressive children and sideline wires to trip on. Any pratfall that occurs is just comedic fodder to the mascot, who must look to be in charge at all times.

“We always tell our guys and girls, ‘Brutus never messes up,’ ” Sharp said. “It may look like he messed up, but whatever Brutus did, Brutus meant to do that.”

Then there are the physical limitations. Brutus sees out of his mouth, not the costume’s eyes, cutting down the field of vision dramatically. Williams added that temperature inside the foam-rubber head is 40 degrees warmer than the air temperature, making even basketball games uncomfortable and early-season football games nearly unbearable. Gatorade often becomes the person’s best friend.

“Unless you’ve done it in high school, it’s a whole new ballgame,” Sharp said. “Just to let you know, the amount of sweat that you secrete is ridiculous.”

And the initial appearance in front of a crowd? It can be terrifying.

“My first event was a men’s volleyball game,” said Schmitt, a Gahanna native who did the job from 2010-12. “They were trying to get to the NCAA championship and it was at home, and I was scared out of my mind. It was not a home football game with 110,000 people, but I was still like, ‘What do I do now? What do I do now?’ The older Brutus than me at the time, he was half laughing at me, half offering criticism.

“It takes some time to get through all those challenges to really start feeling comfortable, but even by the time I was a senior, I was still learning things. Hopefully you’re never at an event and the Brutus looks bored or uncomfortable. He should always be trying to wow everyone in the room.”

Once it’s figured out, the job is rewarding. There are, of course, hundreds of athletics events during the year at which Brutus appears, and the chance to be part of the celebration at the biggest events can be memorable said Williams, who portrayed Brutus at the 2002 national championship game win vs. Miami (Fla.).

“Just being out there on the field and at the trophy ceremony was exhilarating,” she said. But one other moment as Brutus sticks out to Williams, just the second female ever to portray the character. In 2001, then-cheerleading coach Judy Bunting called her and said that the parents of a 12-year-old boy had made a request of the university. Their son was losing his battle with leukemia, and one of his last wishes was to receive a visit from Brutus.

“I was so nervous because I’m a college kid and I’m going, ‘Oh my gosh, am I really going to be touching this kid’s life? I want to make it great for him,’ ” she said. “A lot of people ask us when we’re in that uniform under the head, ‘When no one can see your face, do you ever smile when pictures are being taken?’

“I can honestly tell you, when I went to that 12-year-old’s house and he was laying on the couch and I walked in the door as Brutus and his face lit up with the biggest smile, I started to cry.”

Now in his 50th season and set to celebrate his birthday during the upcoming football season, Brutus feels like he’s everywhere – he has Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat accounts – but that’s not quite the case. Close to 8,000 requests to have Brutus appear at events each year; the university fills around 500 each year.

There is also a push to add scholarship money for those who portray the mascot; currently, the students receive enough of a stipend only to buy books, while some mascots around the Big Ten are on full scholarship, the former mascots said. Fans are encouraged to donate here.

But the whole experience was not about the money to Williams, Sharp and Schmitt. It’s about the smiles created and memories made, even if you might have to be nuts to take the job.

“Brutus is here to essentially bring joy to everyone around him,” Sharp said. “Brutus Buckeye is the ambassador for this university. He is among the most recognizable figures of this university around the country.”


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