What it takes to be the Tiger: A look into the secret lives of Clemson’s beloved mascots
They are recognized by everyone on game day, but known by no one. They’re the biggest fans on the field, but they’ve got nothing to say.
They are Clemson’s mascots: The Tiger and his nephew, The Cub.
These are the stories of two anonymous Clemson students who have earned the right to be the face of Clemson athletics.
Live vicariously through their orange passion. There are Tigers among us.
But first, the ground rules:
Bringing Clemson’s tiger mascots to life is a group effort. The Cub and The Tiger each have a team of three students who work together to ensure each mascot stays true to its character over the years.
“We have one returning student, who is the primary mascot, and one or two new students in training,” said Tori Palmer, Clemson’s spirit program coordinator.
But one does not simply become The Tiger. Each year, Palmer and a panel of Tiger mascot alumni hold formal tryouts. It’s a long process involving spontaneous skits, interviews and a push-up evaluation. Of course, in addition to meeting height requirements, Tiger hopefuls have to have the right attitude.
“The biggest thing we look for is someone who’s really excited to represent Clemson and who has lots of energy. In-suit, everything has to be exaggerated,” she said.
Let’s meet Tiger #1
“I knew I wanted to be The Tiger the first time I went to a Clemson football game and saw the mascot doing push-ups for 82,000 people,” said the student who holds the coveted position of Clemson’s primary Tiger.
When he tried out for a mascot position sophomore year, he was offered a spot as The Cub. But he was determined to prove himself — only The Tiger gets to do pushups.
Maybe it was something in his stride, his tenacious attitude or just his awesome dance moves, but the alumni judges were convinced.
Now that he’s earned the title of Clemson’s top Tiger, he gets certain benefits. Over the summer, Tiger #1 was invited to New York to participate in the filming of ESPN’s college football TV spot.
“I boarded the plane with the Tiger suit in my carry-on,” he said. “I got to meet other mascots from schools across the country, and everyone instantly became friends. We relate to each other really well because we all understand the struggles of being a mascot. Plus, we’ve all got the same outgoing personality — and lots of corny jokes.”
It’s tough not to brag about starring in a national TV ad and even tougher to keep from posting pictures on social media, but Tiger #1 wouldn’t change the tradition of keeping his identity anonymous.
“There’s power in the secret. You can really lose yourself in character without judgment. I feel like the Clemson Batman,” he laughed.
Like Batman, Tiger #1 has something near super strength — his latest record is 250 in-suit pushups over the course of a single football game. Unlike Batman, The Tiger is a full-time college student.
“It’s a huge time commitment,” he said.
In addition to attending athletic events and requested appearances, the Tiger mascots wake up at sunrise to work out with the Clemson cheerleading team.
“I do pushups every night before I go to bed,” he said. “It all comes with the job, and it’s worth it in the end.”
There’s no escaping the stifling heat, the sideline selfies or the athlete-caliber a.m. workouts, but Tiger #1 can’t imagine his college career any other way.
“You put on the suit, and you’re a celebrity — you’re the face of Clemson University. I enjoy having that responsibility,” he said. “But for me, it’s all about the stories I’ll get to tell later.”
Enter, Cub #1
The Cub, affectionately known as Cubby, may look like his uncle, but he’s a completely different animal.
“Cubby’s personality is much different than The Tiger’s,” said the student who’s earned the top Cub spot. “The Tiger is the big man on campus. The Cub gets to be rambunctious and silly — he’s always getting into trouble.”
This mayhem-loving mascot was considered an exclusively male role for many years, but following a recent trend, this year’s #1 Cub is a female student.
“Many guys who are short enough to be The Cub don’t want to admit they’re that short,” she laughed.
When The Cub isn’t interacting with fans at games, she devotes up to 15 hours per week making appearances off-campus. While these events don’t always have the same energy you’d find in Death Valley or on Riggs Field, they’re often just as interesting.
“Weddings for young Clemson alumni are especially fun. I’ve been asked to shag dance a few times. Nothing’s off the wall anymore … but crowd surfing is pretty crazy,” she laughed.
That, and the South Carolina heat.
“Staying bubbly and happy and bouncy when it’s really hot outside can be tough,” she said. “But I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. It’s nice to be a part of something bigger than yourself.”
Although she isn’t able to share this sense of pride with everyone she meets, it’s no secret to her family.
“My dad wanted to be The Tiger when he was at Clemson, so that was always in the back of my mind,” she said.
When she tried out for the spot last year, she didn’t tell her parents. And when she won the job, she sent a picture message that didn’t need a caption: A mascot head selfie.
“My dad just laughed,” she said.
From that moment on, Clemson’s primary Cub has searched for smiles. And more often than not, she’s found them.
“It’s strange to have the power to make people happy just by walking into a room,” she said. “I love that I can make someone smile just by being there.”