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November 26, 2014

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The man behind the mustache: Hey Reb driven by passion for UNLV sports

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Hey Reb crowd surfs the student section during UNLV’s game against New Mexico Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012 at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV won the game 80-63.

Hey Reb in Action

UNLV mascot Hey Reb shoots off fireworks before the start of the Rebels game against the University of Texas El Paso Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011 at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV won the game 65-54. Launch slideshow »

Mr. Sun,

It’s great to see the Runnin’ Rebels back in action. But tell me about that other guy on the hardwood with the really big head: Hey Reb. — Big Fan

Well, Big Fan, I can tell you that nobody has more passion for the scarlet-and-gray than UNLV’s mascot, mega-mustachioed mountain man Hey Reb. He debuted in 1983, and the student filling his 25-pound, fur-and-Styrofoam costume will end his five-year run in the spring when he graduates.

He wants to remain anonymous, but here’s what we can tell you: He’s a communications major who came here in 2007 from New Jersey, in part because he’s the recipient of a scholarship to perform as the campus mascot, helping him cover some of his school expenses.

“I played my first mascot when I was 13. Our school was the Vikings, but we didn’t have a mascot. So I went to a costume store before Halloween and bought a viking costume and got permission to go on the field.”

Why? “It’s a combination of having a love for being in the spotlight, combined with school spirit. I have a lot of need to make people happy, to make sure everybody is having fun. If I’m at a party, out of costume, I’ll still be at the front door greeting people or dancing or with a microphone in my hand.”

He’s something of a professional mascot, having played 35 characters over nine years — for conventions, company promotions, private parties and the like — including as a shark, a bear and a kangaroo that took him on a four-city tour to help promote a company brand. Private jobs pay between $25 and $300 an hour.

He won the kangaroo gig because the company president liked “my attitude, my swagger, the way I walked. Some of us have it, some of us don’t.”

He also spills with school spirit. “People think that performing as a mascot gives me the option to be someone else. But I am Hey Reb. He’s by far the biggest fan at UNLV and is never afraid to show his scarlet and gray, and that’s how I feel, too. And I love dancing and high-fiving little kids.”

And crowd-surfing up the student section? “Well, that’s a little scary for the first few hands, but then, after 500 or 600 hands have touched you and people are yelling, ‘Keep him up! Keep him up!’ it’s just way too much fun.”

Such antics are typical for Hey Reb; last year, he rappelled down the side of the Rio in a fundraiser for the Special Olympics.

Unlike mascots who might have vision or movement restrictions because of their costumes, Hey Reb doesn’t rely on a spotter to help him get around. “That would slow me down,” he says. (He is particularly facile in manipulating his head, thanks to wearing a hockey helmet that gives him better control.)

A good mascot has to demonstrate two qualities, he says: “Passion, and do everything in an exaggerated way because you can’t speak. You communicate in your movements. You can’t, for instance, just wave to someone. That would look lame. You have to wave like you’re trying to get their attention.”

His most embarrassing moment? “The Rebel Girls choreographed a dance that included me, and just as it started, I totally forgot what I was supposed to do. So I just sort of walked around, and luckily at the end, I was right where I was supposed to be.”

After graduation, he wants to be hired as a mascot for a professional sports team in a major market, where such jobs pay six-figure incomes.

But he’ll long remember his five years as Hey Reb.

“The sweat, the fatigue, the stench and the pimples on the face, those are nothing when you see a little 3-year-old smile when they see Hey Reb and you exchange high-fives. I could be having the worst day, but when I put the suit on, it’s a whole different ballgame, and with each smile, my day gets better and better.”

Got something for Mr. Sun? Email mr.sun@lasvegas sun.com.

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