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The man behind the mask

by Holly Bowen
| December 11, 2010 8:00 PM

MOSCOW (AP) - Assuming someone else's identity up to 30 hours a week isn't a normal curriculum for University of Idaho students, but it's been a large part of Lucas Tate's life since 2006.

He retired from playing Joe Vandal, the UI's burly yet friendly mascot, this spring after three and a half years behind the mask. He'll graduate from the UI today with a bachelor's degree in mathematics with an emphasis in actuarial science.

Tate, 22, moved to Moscow from Kennewick, Wash., after graduating from high school in 2006. He was cheering from the stands during a UI women's basketball game that fall when representatives of the Cheer Squad approached to see if he would be interested in the mascot program. At about 6 feet, 2 inches tall, he was an ideal fit for the Joe Vandal suit.

Tate said when he joined the program, Joe Vandal wasn't the dynamic and popular personality he is today.

But after time at a "mascot camp" at North Idaho College, Joe's personality and signature walk emerged.

"It's kind of a casual march," Tate said. "Elbows high, knees high."

He said being on the wrestling team in high school prepared him to walk on his hands while wearing the mascot suit - his high school coach would teach wrestlers to do handstands during practice. Going to gymnastics class while in college helped Tate perfect his technique. He also played intramural sports his freshman and sophomore years to stay in shape.

Tate said being in the mascot suit can be physically exhausting. Joe Vandal attends all basketball, football and volleyball games and makes appearances at a number of on-campus and community events. The mascot also makes private appearances for people who pay an hourly fee.

"I did a wedding once," Tate said.

He said he lost an average of six to 10 pounds of water weight per game. He fainted while in the suit one time last year, but the way he fell made it look like Joe was goofing off, and no one knew what happened. When he came to, he rushed back to the Kibbie Dome and climbed out of the suit.

When he traveled to Los Angeles for three days this July to shoot promotional material for the Capital One National Mascot of the Year competition, Tate spent 12 hours per day as Joe.

"None of us had ever been in the suit that long," he said.

A doctor was even on-site to ensure mascot performers were adequately hydrated.

Joe Vandal was recently voted out of the competition, but Tate said he wasn't too surprised because to win would require a massive marketing campaign. He said he's still friends with some of the other mascot performers, particularly the person who plays Puddles the Duck at the University of Oregon.

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