HUNTSVILLE — While the average Sam Houston State University fan may not know senior Jarrod Leftwich by sight, they do see him more than they realize — as university mascot Sammy Bearkat.
Leftwich, 23, who has played the role of Sammy for five years now, recently made history for the mascot program — winning first place in the National Cheerleading Association’s Mascot Nationals competition in Daytona Beach, Fla. on April 10.
“I first had to send in a video entry to NCA,” Leftwich said. “And of the 16 videos sent in, Sammy was one of 10 mascots in the division chosen to attend nationals.”
Those 10 were joined by four automatic qualifiers from camp, with 14 total mascots competing.
“I competed at nationals, performing a 90-minute skit for judges,” he said. “They named the top five, with Sammy winning first place.”
The victory was bittersweet for Leftwich, he said, having placed second in the previous year when he, and others, felt they should have won in 2009.
“This year was different for us, though,” he said. “We went into it with total confidence, even praying beforehand, and we came out victorious.
This was a history making year for Sammy — the first year for the SHSU mascot to win first place at the NCA Championship.
“It is just now starting to become real for me,” Leftwich said. “I have been waiting five years for this.
“I just can’t completely describe how I feel about it,” he added. “I am proud of the team and of myself for what we have done — bringing the program from the bottom to the top, and now being known nationally as well as locally and statewide.”
Leftwich takes his role as Sammy very seriously, calling it his own unique outlet for expressing how he feels about SHSU.
“I am proud to represent my university in this way,” he said. “I love everything about Sam Houston State University.
“It is a great way to express how I feel, by winning a national championship for the university.”
Leftwich is in his second year as mascot captain, leading a team of five SHSU mascots who attend SHSU sporting events and make special appearances in the community.
“I have really enjoyed participating at games,” Leftwich said. “Sammy plays a huge role in the university — he is an icon.
“What we do has a big influence on other people,” he added. “It is our goal to get all the fans going.”
One of the highlights of Leftwich’s career as Sammy occurred earlier this year, when the Bearkats played Stephen F. Austin University during the Southland Conference basketball tournament.
“It was the first time I was ever able to get the entire crowd to stand up and do what I wanted,” he said. “That is always a mascot’s goal, and for me, it was the second proudest moment as Sammy.
“My entire senior year has been a dream,” he added. “I have enjoyed seeing a lot of people — doing birthday appearances, being at games — and the kids love Sammy, they all know who he is.”
Leftwich’s first role as a mascot was as a student at Linden Killdare High School, where he spent four years as “Tony the Tiger.”
“Ever since I was in sixth grade, I wanted to be a mascot,” he said. “When my freshman year came around, I talked to the coach about being mascot, and she asked why I hadn’t come to her sooner.
“I started as the high school mascot at the third football game of the season, a home game,” he added. “I have been doing it ever since.”
When looking a colleges, Leftwich tried out for mascot at both SHSU and at the University of North Texas in Denton.
“I made mascot at both universities,” he said. “But I liked Sam Houston a lot more. They have a more notable program and I got along with the people more.”
According to Leftwich, a lot is demanded of Sammy, both physically and mentally, with requirements most people don’t think of when they see him on the field.
“Whatever the temperature is outside, it is 40 degrees hotter inside the costume,” Leftwich said. “I require my team members to get a drink of water every 15 minutes.
“You have to be very energetic to do what the team does,” he said. “You have to be creative, always thinking about what your next move might be — you have to always be on your toes.”
Sammy has a personality all his own, from the way he walks to how he expresses emotion, Leftwich said.
“Sammy’s character is stern, and flirtatious with the ladies,” he said. “He likes shining bald men’s heads.
“To be a good Sammy, you have to be outgoing and friendly and you have got to have 100 percent confidence,” he said. “Of course, you also need a good sense of humor.”
The few that know of Leftwich’s dual personalities are sometimes surprised that he is Sammy — but for him that is exactly what being a mascot is about.
“As a mascot, you are portraying another character, not yourself,” he said. “That is what makes it so fun.”
Leftwich will be graduating from SHSU this May with a degree in criminal justice.
He hopes to pursue being a mascot after graduation, and is planning to try out for the role as mascot of the National Football League’s St. Louis Rams.
“If that doesn’t work out, I will continue to look out for other mascot jobs while pursuing a job as a paralegal, or maybe go on to law school,” Leftwich said.