BY MATT MACKINDER
Clarkston News Staff Writer
Richard Johnson grew up in Clarkston, graduating from Clarkston High School in 2015.
He then ventured to Ohio State University to pursue a welding engineering degree. Johnson graduated cum laude this past spring and is pursuing a master’s degree in the same realm with hopes to one day work for NASA.
But it was his performance away from the classroom as the OSU mascot “Brutus Buckeye” for two years that perhaps made Johnson the big man on campus.
“I once saw Brutus dancing on the field during a football game with the dance team and thought to myself, ‘I could totally do that,’” said Johnson. “During the spring semester of my sophomore year, some friends encouraged me to join the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity (also known as Fiji). Almost immediately, I was introduced to a member who had a similar dance background as me. He told me he was a cheerleader and I asked if he knew how I could try out to be Brutus. He then revealed his secret and helped me learn the necessary skills to join the team.”
The identity of Brutus used to be published in football programs, with a photo of the person wearing the costume without the head. In 2010, Brutus was maliciously tackled by the Ohio University mascot and the media tried contacting the student who was tackled which lead to problems. Since then, the mascot program at OSU does its best to maintain anonymity for the general public but keeping the secret from people close to Brutus is nearly impossible.
“We typically reveal our identities during and after we graduate, much like ‘Sparty,” Johnson said. “Most mascots do the big graduation reveal by wearing their boots or gloves as they receive their diploma, but Brutus wears regular basketball shoes and football gloves that any OSU fan can buy. We decorate our graduation cap with Brutus’ Block ‘O’ hat and wear his signature scarlet and grey striped rugby jersey under the gown.”
Another Clarkston graduate, Kamren Huizenga, played Sparty at Michigan State University from 2014 to 2018 (see May 29, 2019 edition of The Clarkston News, Clarkston grad kept Sparty on).
“I knew of Kamren during high school and had no idea he was Sparty until I saw his twin sister at UCA camp (summer camp for collegiate cheer, dance and mascots) my first summer on the team,” Johnson said. “I knew his sister better from having a class together. Due to administration reasons that I don’t know the details of, Sparty does not attend camp so we never met.”
Johnson said it was a blast going to all the football, basketball and hockey games and community events.
“Being on the field for home football games will forever be one of my fondest memories,” Johnson said. “Ohio State has so many deep-rooted traditions surrounding football and it was incredible getting to be a part of that rather than watching from the crowd. Ohio State fans all know that our teams feed off the crowd energy and in some small way, I got to help the football team by interacting with the crowd to get them as excited as Brutus always is. I especially felt this when traveling to the game at Maryland (in Nov. 2018). There were so many Buckeye fans, but they were quiet, and you could see the team reflect that. After halftime, I like to take a little credit for getting the crowd loud for the team to squeak out the win in the end.
“Basketball games were especially fun because we have free reign of the arena and it made interacting with fans a lot easier and much more personal and memorable experience for the fans.”
Playing Brutus was something Johnson said made him feel like a celebrity.
“Because it was a secret, I didn’t feel like the big man on campus until I put the costume on,” said Johnson. “If I was walking next to Brutus, nobody paid any attention to me. As soon as the head was on, crowds flocked for pictures and autographs. I never used Brutus as a pick-up line but I’m sure it would have helped. Girls love Brutus and many even claim that ‘Brutus is my boyfriend.’ Surprisingly, though, being Brutus has been a major topic of discussion in every job interview I have had since becoming the mascot.”
During college, the perks for Johnson were endless, but said he wouldn’t trade the experiences for anything.
“A few of my favorites include being featured in a QuickenLoans commercial with other mascots, meeting other mascots at camp and other sporting events, visiting (football coach) Urban Meyer’s house for his birthday, and of course, winning the 2018-19 national championship for mascots,” Johnson said. “None of those memories can compare, however, with sharing happiness and Buckeye pride with everyone I encountered on and off the field, brightening the days of children and adults alike who are stuck in hospitals or can’t afford to visit campus. I love that the identities of mascots are kept secret because it takes the spotlight away from the individual inside and brings the focus to the interactions with people and to something that is bigger than yourself.
Born in Canton, Ohio, Johnson and his family lived in Stow, Ohio, until he was 6. At the beginning of kindergarten, the family moved to Clarkston and Richard started at Bailey Lake Elementary. He continued through Sashabaw Middle School, Clarkston Junior High and then CHS, where he was ranked 23rd four years ago, graduated summa cum laude, and was also a Senior Scholar.
“I think the Clarkston community is a lot like the Buckeye community, as much as I’m sure the community doesn’t want to hear that, being deep in Spartan and Wolverine territory,” laughed Johnson. “Clarkston is a relatively large school district with graduating classes larger than 600 students, but it is still a close-knit community that cares about each other and our community. Ohio State is one of the largest universities in the country, but it feels a lot like Clarkston. I can walk around campus and run into dozens of people I have met throughout my college career much like I can travel around Clarkston and run into people I grew up with. The thing I like most about Clarkston is the same as one of the things I like most about Ohio State – the friendly and familiar faces and places and so many great memories that will always stay with me.”