It was every mascot’s worst nightmare.
Bruiser, the Belmont Bruins’ mascot was doing his signature “jerk” dance move during a media timeout late in the first half of the 2013 Ohio Valley Conference championship basketball game at Municipal Auditorium.
One of his paws slipped out from underneath him, and Bruiser ended up in a very uncomfortable position… the splits.
Ryan Rose, the man inside the suit, pulled his hamstring. And it hurt.
“I told myself, ‘Just find a way to get off the court,’” Rose said. “I didn’t want to fall and end up on the Sportscenter Not Top 10.”
A bruised Bruiser slowly but surely made his off the court, but once the injury was made known, Rose was taken to the hospital by an ambulance.
One mascot’s worst nightmare became another mascot’s dream come true.
J.T. Faircloth, who assumed he would be watching the OVC title game as a casual fan, got the call to step in as Bruiser for the second half.
Faircloth would be in the suit to witness former Belmont point guard Kerron Johnson make a game-tying shot at the end of regulation to send the game into overtime, and then make a game-winning shot at the end of the overtime period.
Faircloth described this as his greatest mascot moment.
“When Kerron made that shot, to be in the suit when everyone erupted… It was unbelievable.”
Faircloth had no intentions of being a mascot until a women’s volleyball game at Lipscomb University’s Allen Arena changed things.
A resident of Belmont’s infamous all boys Pembroke Hall, the women’s volleyball team sponsor, Faircloth and his fellow residents attended the game and as usual, caused a scene.
With his headband, Belmont women’s basketball shirt, and Atlanta Hawks jersey on, Faircloth challenged the Lipscomb mascot, Lu Bison, to a dance-off.
The bison invited Faircloth onto the court, where the dance-off took place.
The crowd went crazy, but it was the ending to this exchange that sticks with Faircloth as an unforgettable moment.
“At the end of the song he flopped on the ground, so I hopped on his back and he gave me a ride around the arena,” Faircloth said. “It was as priceless as it sounds.”
Not long after, the captain of the cheer squad invited Faircloth to an informational meeting if he had interest in being the mascot.
Before he even officially auditioned for the mascot position, Faircloth was asked to fill in for the Belmont basketball NCAA tournament Selection Sunday party.
“It was really cool,” Faircloth said. “I realized then how Bruiser is really a true celebrity.”
Faircloth has been mentored throughout his time as Bruiser by Rose, who has crafted the identity of the Belmont mascot since he got the position in 2011.
“I pretty much started with a blank slate,” Rose said.
As for where to start, one word stuck out to Rose.
“I thought of one of those guys in a club who has a lot of confidence and can dance.”
Rose continued to build the mascot’s persona, adding things like being a ladies’ man, a gentleman.
“He can put on a suit, shake hands and say ‘How are you doing sir?’” Rose said about Bruiser’s professional side.
Rose said when he steps into the suit, he remembers one thing that a coach told him a few years ago:
“You’re not Ryan. You’re Bruiser.”
This advice goes a long way for someone like Rose, who for a long time viewed himself as awkward and antisocial.
“[When I’m in the suit] I can’t think the way that I would act, I have to think like a method actor… I have to think about how Bruiser would act.”
Rose’s best memory in the suit came during the Belmont men’s basketball NCAA tournament game against Georgetown in Columbus, Ohio.
During a media timeout, Rose tried something new.
He went over to Georgetown fan section and did one of his classic dance routines, but the boo’s that he anticipated were replaced by cheers and applause.
“It weird… I even had families ask for pictures with their kids when I was done,” Rose said.
The best part came when Belmont fans invaded the Georgetown student section and overheard a conversation a few of their fans were having.
Rose was told by a friend that the Georgetown students said things like, “Why don’t we have a cool mascot like theirs?” and “Gosh, our mascot sucks.”
Moments like those make it all worth it for Rose.
Both Faircloth and Rose noted that there is no better feeling than a child running up to them and hugging their leg, or seeing a big smile come on to the face of a kid who was just crying.
“it’s great to see people happy,” Faircloth said.
But like any celebrity, it’s not always an under-the-lights, center stage life for the mascot.
Each time that Bruiser’s suit is used, Faircloth or Rose can be found in the laundry room late at night hand washing it. To avoid the suit from being stolen or misused, they are responsible for locking the gear safely away when they are finished.
Workouts with the cheerleading team are expected, as well as appearances at local events.
Faircloth and Rose accept their duties, and get enjoyment even from the behind the scenes work that goes into being the Belmont mascot.
It was Rose who pioneered the idea of Bruiser attending events like campus visits for prospective students.
“I wanted Bruiser to be more than a mascot,” Rose said. “I wanted him to be the face that people associate with Belmont.”
Bruiser makes appearances at charity events, elementary schools visits, college fairs, and events that take place on campus.
Faircloth and Rose have been to events like a birthday party for Ozzie, the Nashville Sounds mascot, which has given them the opportunity to network and meet other mascots.
Rose described Gnash, the Nashville Predators mascot as “very professional,” but as for T-Rac, the Tennessee Titans mascot, “Not so much.”
Both Faircloth and Rose can see themselves continuing to mascot beyond college, but their primary focus is making sure the persona of Bruiser lives on even after they graduate.
“I want Bruiser’s identity to live on,” Rose said.
For those interested in attending an informational or auditioning for a mascot tryout, please contact cheer coach Lindseytonkin@comcast.net