NORMAN – Leprechaun Bryce grew up in southern Indiana. He’s been an Irish fan since he was little.
“I was probably brainwashed by my father,” Leprechaun Bryce told The Oklahoman in a phone interview from the campus of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.
Now, he’s in his final year at the University of Notre Dame. He’s majoring in Science and Business and applying to medical school. Before med school though, he’ll continue to lead Notre Dame fans, alumni and more in cheers and pep rallies. Here, he explains his role as the Leprechaun, what it’s like to being one of the few mascots of a university that can actually speak, what ESPN’s College GameDay is like and how he thinks this weekend wil play out when No. 5 Notre Dame visits No. 7 Oklahoma.
How do you become the Notre Dame Leprechaun?
There’s a three-week tryout that runs concurrently with cheerleading tryouts. The main part of the tryout is public speaking so they’ll kind of put you on the spot. They’ll have all the cheerleaders there and you’ll try out in front of a big audience.
The example we had last year was you’re now in Norman, Okla. And we’re about to play them and we’re about to do a pep rally for the alumni. You have a couple minutes to prepare something and then you go out and give a pep rally or they want to see how you react in an embarrassing situation so I know the one time they put us on the baseline in front of all those people and they turned on ‘Teach Me How To Dougie” and they would kind of point at us to make us come out to the free throw line and dance in front of all of them to see how you react and see how you will come up with things while you speak.
Then on the last day of tryouts, it’s open to the public. You can get all your friends to come. Everyone gets to dress up like a leprechaun. They have old suits and things like that and then you can do a pep rally and a media interview and the Irish jig, a push-up contest and another random situation. After that, you have another interview and they decide that night and post it.
What made you decide to try out to become the Leprechaun?
I’ve always been a Notre Dame fan. I’m only 5-foot-7 and I have red hair and can grow a beard. Even when I was in high school, people told me that I should try out. Then when I got here, I thought I’d give it a try.
What is the job of the Notre Dame Leprechaun?
A lot of people think it’s limited to running around on the sidelines but it actually has a much wider scope than that. I emcee pep rallies that we have here and on the road. We’ll have one when we go to Oklahoma on Friday night. We do community events with the cheerleaders or we’ll go to hospitals or nursing homes. … It’s a wide variety of jobs other than just doing things for athletics.
It seems like it’s more than being a mascot on game day. Why is it like that?
The Leprechaun is part of the cheerleading team but it’s also like an ambassador to the University. So they see us as a way to outreach to the community or when we go places it’s a way for us to be the segue between the University and the fans.
Being a mascot that does speak, do you feel different than most mascots?
Yeah. Sometimes I’ll be in a situation where I’ll be in a situation where I’m around other ones and they can’t even speak to me. They’re just kind of like this animated figure on the sidelines. They give gestures and head nods but I get to talk to people and lead cheers and I guess emcee the pep rallies. It’s a much different type of position being able to speak than not being able to.
What’s your favorite part of game day?
Besides the game, obviously – the games are very exciting, especially this year with the team doing so well; it’s a great time. But I think just connecting with all the fans. They’re so excited to be there. It’s just fun to interact with them and take pictures with them and talk with them. It’s probably the most rewarding part.
Is that what you like outside of game day too?
Yeah, when we go to hospitals and things like that, just being able to connect with those fans and make their day better. It’s a very rewarding part of the job.
How many push-ups can you do?
I can do about 100.
It’s a compilation though so you have to do it every time Notre Dame scores though, don’t you?
Right. So any time they score a touchdown we do the amount of push-ups that they have points. We went to Ireland at the beginning of the year when we played Navy and by the end of it, when you do 7, 14 — all the way to 43 and then 50 it’s quite a few pushups.
What do you think about Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o?
Manti Te’o is just the perfect definition of a student athlete. He works hard in the classroom. He’s such a great football player obviously but such a great person off the field. Someone that anyone can look up to and he’s had a rough time with the death of his grandmother and his girlfriend this year. He’s been such a good example for anyone to follow. It’s just an inspiring story.
What do you like most about Notre Dame?
It is the people here. I think people get, a lot of times caught up, in the physical structures of Notre Dame with the (Golden) Dome and Touchdown Jesus, but the people here are all very intelligent, well-rounded people and I think that’s why you see so many people with such a strong connection to the place.Can you explain what the Golden Dome and Touchdown Jesus are?
The Golden Dome is our main administration building and it has a 24-carat gold leaf dome on it with a statue of Mary on top of it that’s also golden. Touchdown Jesus is just the name that people give it. It’s technically called the “Word of Life” mural. It’s this stone façade on the exterior of the library. Jesus is raising his arms so it looks like a touchdown gesture. Before they renovated the stadium, you could see it but now it’s kind of hard if you’re not on the opposite side.
Isn’t some of the Golden Dome in the players’ helmets?
Every time they renovate the Dome, they take that gold and used to sprinkle that into the helmets and they also put it in the seal on your diploma. They now make the helmets differently. At about the halfway point of last year, our helmets became an incredibly brighter gold. I would imagine that they still use 24-carat gold dust in them but I’m not sure on that new process.
What are you most looking forward to about Norman, Oklahoma?
I’ve never been to Oklahoma. I think I’ve flown over it once, so I don’t know what to expect. I think it’s going to be kind of a loud, hostile environment. Since College GameDay is going to be there it’s going to be really exciting. I know that everyone here on campus is going to be excited for it.
What was the best sign that you saw at College GameDay when the crew was there for the Stanford – Notre Dame game?
Since Touchdown Jesus was in the background, my favorite one was ‘SEC, this is what a library looks like.’ I’m excited to see what signs Oklahoma can come up with.
GameDay’s Lee Corso pulled you up on stage. Can you tell me about that?
We got him a past Notre Dame Leprechaun suit. He always does the head-gear pick. I think they’d been to Notre Dame eight times before that and he’d never picked Notre Dame and so he finally picked them and we both went up on stage and we did an Irish jig together. It was an incredible time.
What do you think about this weekend’s game?
It’s a prime-time game. It’ll be Notre Dame’s second game day in three weeks, which is incredibly exciting. We’re expecting a super loud, hostile environment and I know if Oklahoma’s playing Notre Dame that’s exactly what I would be wanting and anticipating. I’m just expecting a great football game between two top 10 teams, and hopefully Notre Dame comes out on top.