He’ll never win MVP or even play a single minute. But being a good sport, he’ll still suit up for every game. Even with no sweat to show for, Willie the Wildcat is a real athlete.
“Anyone who has ever been a mascot can agree, you’re essentially in a giant parka for various reasons from August to May,” said DJ Acevedo. “It definitely takes a toll on the body.”
For the past two and a half years, Acevedo, senior youth ministry major from Merkel has been the face behind the Willie face, a role not for the faint of heart.
“I drank five bottles of water before the football season opener last August, and drank another two waters and a Gatorade during half time,” he said. “With as much jumping around and dancing I do during the games, it can get pretty warm in there.”
Growing up as a coach’s kid, Acevedo said second to watching the game, the mascot was his favorite part of sports.
“I know it sounds weird, but I have always wanted to be a mascot,” he said. “I would definitely say that I am a bit of a prankster and someone who enjoys making people laugh. I always saw being mascot as the perfect opportunity to do that. After a couple days of emailing, I finally got to try out and was selected to be on the staff.”
According to “No Ordinary University: The Story of a City Set on a Hill”, Willie came about in 1919 when the intercollegiate sports of football, baseball and intramurals needed a playing field. A fundraising contest with the prize of naming a new proposed playing facility ended with Wildcat Park and the school’s new mascot, the Wildcat. Abilene Christian College Antelopes was the mascot runner-up.
Director of athletics, Jared Mosley, said most of ACU’s mascots have been in the role two to three years, with some who have helped all four years of their college career.
If masks and motivating are your specialty, ACU has a job for you. With Acevedo graduating next week, his days as Willie are coming to a close. Over Christmas break, ACU Athletics Department will be on the search for someone new to don the furry apparel.
Mosley said they have had a handful of individuals express interest and are in the process of working to identify a couple of students who can serve.
“We will probably allow for some opportunities to try out in costume at a couple of games when we get back from the Christmas break,” he said.
Acevedo offered a few characteristics required to play the mascot part.
“You have to be a people-person for sure,” he said. “In a span of five minutes, I will have interacted with people from babies to elderly.”
Dealing with that many people demands finding a silver lining in any given situation, he said.
“I have people yank on my tail, stick their hands in the mouth or even try to take my head off,” Acevedo said. “And even though sometimes those things can be a little annoying, if it puts a smile on someone’s face, I roll with it and try to make it as funny as possible.”
Acevedo said Willie must be able to literally take the heat wherever the game is played.
“It has always been 10 to 15 degrees hotter because I am in a big fur coat,” he said. “Of course when it’s near freezing outside, I’m feeling pretty good.”
But being Willie involves far more than sidelining standing and crowd conversing, Acevedo said.
“You would be surprised how much is involved with being the mascot,” he said. “I have done everything from football games to junior high pep rallies and everything in between.”
Mosley said outside of ACU games, the Department of Athletics has a number of external requests for Willie the Wildcat.
“Schools, youth organizations and even local businesses request to have Willie make an appearance for special events and programs,” he said. “It is really important for us to find individuals who are very active and outgoing and who are good at interacting with fans and the crowd at games.”
But even the ACU icon is in need of a costume face-lift.
“The bulky, full-body costume can be extremely taxing during the hot summer and early fall months,” he said. “It can also be difficult to maneuver in large crowds and getting around arenas and stadiums, so we’ve discussed a more natural look using team uniforms and perhaps only using the Wildcat head in the future.”
But the essence of Willie will stay, Mosley said.
“We feel that the current Willie the Wildcat is very kid-friendly and is a great representation of ACU,” he said.
With two years of playing the part, Acevedo has represented ACU in all sorts of ways.
“I have gotten to be a part of thousands of pictures, a Harlem Shake video, start a Twitter account, win and lose in hundreds of rock-paper-scissor games, blow millions of kisses, aggravate people texting during games, give tons of hugs, have a taunt war and dance-off with other team’s mascots, give thousands of high-fives and put more smiles on people’s faces than McDonalds ever could,” he said.
And with that experience has a come a long list of thanks to those who make being Willie possible.
“The ACU student body, the cheerleading team, the folks in the athletic offices and the dry cleaners, trust me,” he said. “I have loved my time as the mascot and wish the best for whomever is lucky enough to be a part of it next to carry on the tradition.”
For the next Willie, Acevedo passed along the only two cardinal rules of the mascot profession.
First, he said, Willie must keep his identity a secret no matter what, and secondly, with the exceptions of cheerleaders, Willie must never say anything while wearing the suit.
“I must follow the example of George Washington and admit I cut down those cherry trees,” he said. “I mean, you’re the mascot of your school, why wouldn’t you tell at least some people?”
But Acevedo said he has followed the other mascot commandments.
“I have never broken the second rule. I guess with this article the cat is out of the bag on my identity though, huh?”
For those interested in the mascot position, visit acusports.com to fill out an application.