The man behind the mask – the tales of Will D. Cat

Kristian Stefanides

Who is cocky, has swagger and a great head of hair?

Justin Bieber?

Nope. Will D. Cat, of course.

Ever since 1950, after the University decided to end the period of parading a live bobcat around athletic events, students have become the official face of Will D. Cat. For the student mascots, having the opportunity to serve as the face of the University is an honor. 

Yet their faces are never shown, and their identities are kept completely anonymous. It’s one of the most important aspects of suiting up as the University’s symbol.

“To me, being a university mascot is a huge deal,” Will D. Cat #1 says. “It means that I am essentially the ‘face’ of the university, although I never show my actual face. It’s kind of like having a secret identity.”

Although it can be difficult to keep it a secret, it’s important for the mascots to maintain the identity of Will D. Cat as solely Will D. Cat, not just someone in a furry cat suit. For the mascots, the secret-keeping is not easy, but helps keep Will’s persona intact. 

“It’s hard to keep it a secret sometimes,” Will D. Cat #2 says. “But it’s usually not like, ‘That’s a Nova student in the suit.’ It’s ‘That’s Will D. Cat.’”

Each year, Will D. Cat mascots are considered a part of the cheerleading squad, donning gear with “Villanova Cheerleading” screen-printed on it, leading some to believe that the mascots are really just cheer team members, which is difficult for them.

“Sometimes, I go along with being a ‘cheerleader’ since we technically are cheerleaders and are on the team, but I feel very uncomfortable giving off a false image,” Will D. Cat #3, this year’s sole female mascot, says.

Even with its difficulties, being a university mascot is worth having to keep a secret identity. The events and atmosphere while in the suit are second to none, according to the students who have the opportunity to do so. 

“One of my favorite memories was the Georgetown game at Wells Fargo last year,” Will D. Cat #2 recalls. “I was a freshman and it was my first big men’s game, so I was very nervous. Standing on the court in the middle of all the fans, lights, etc. as they introduced the team; there was nothing like it. I must have been jumping in the air, I was so amped up. It was just an unbelievable feeling. It’s hard to relate that feeling to anybody but a mascot.

Plus, the fans really make the mascot’s job worth it.

“It’s really great, the love you get,” Will D. Cat #2 says. “For me, it is a privilege. I grew up a Villanova fan. I grew up always getting pictures with the mascot. I always thought, ‘Oh, that’s so cool.’ I admired how it’s like a symbol for the school and that’s always why we try to do our best at appearances, because you’re representing the school. And I think that’s a great way to be like an ambassador, and no one knows it’s you, but for me it’s a good feeling.”

This year’s squad includes seven mascots: two juniors, three sophomores and two freshmen. However, that number was much larger in the beginning before the final team was chosen. At the Activities Fair in the fall, 56 new students signed up to audition, 20 actually showed up at the information session following the fair, and nine decided to try-out. 

During the first tryout, those auditioning are given the opportunity to put on Will’s head, hands and feet and are taught Will’s signature walk, involving a bit of cockiness and swagger. Next, they’re given a scenario where they must improvise and evaluators pay attention to how they respond, such as ‘Jay Wright’s standing next to you. How do you act?’ 

Mascots are encouraged to “pop the bubble,” Will D. Cat #2 says. In other words, mascots must demonstrate that they can exaggerate their motions and must try and picture themselves trying to be big enough with their movements enough to pop it.

Finally, the mascots auditioning prepare a one minute skit to perform for the judges before a final cut is made for the second and final round of tryouts. 

For those who are fortunate enough to make the second tryout, mascots put Will’s entire suit on for the first time and do a campus walk-through in between classes. 

Judges are evaluating how the student performs in the full suit, if they are able to maintain character while in populated places, such as the Oreo or Connelly, and to see if they can manage the extreme temperature and strenuous energy exhausted while in the suit. 

“It’s still by far my hardest workout,” Will D. Cat #3 revealed. “I am a gym junkie and run five miles almost every day, but I still feel out of shape after getting in the suit.”

Once the tryouts are complete, few are selected to serve as the University’s mascot. Mascot veterans typically suit up for the university’s high volume events, such as men’s basketball games, and the new additions are warmed up with some smaller games or appearances. This year’s squad recently competed at the Universal Cheerleading Association Mascot Nation Championships Open Division in Walt Disney World and placed third.

But no matter the event, one aspect that always remains true for any student that puts on the suit is his or her ability to have a little fun and get away with things that they couldn’t necessarily in their everyday lives.

“The best part about being the mascot is getting to put on a mask and go crazy without being nervous in front of huge crowds,” Will D. Cat #3 says. “I can dance and play fun little tricks on people and pump up a crowd without being embarrassed that they will see me later in the day.”

One of Will D. Cat #2’s most memorable moments was at the 2015 Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden, something he’ll never forget. After the Wildcats won the championship, Will D. Cat #2 took advantage of a special and once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“I just went up, grabbed the [Big East] trophy and was holding it up and people were loving it,” he says. “If I did that as a normal person I would probably get tackled by police. There’s pretty much nothing off-limits unless they stop you.” 

Despite Will D. Cat getting to pull off holding the coveted Big East trophy, or spontaneously rocking the worm as Will D. Cat #3 did at mascot camp over the summer, it’s often the fans who give their mascot a run for his money. 

“Some crazy little kids love pulling the tail to the point where our one suit’s [tail] is in bad shape,” Will D. Cat #2 says. “It’s hanging by a thread.” 

Will D. Cat #1 likes to stir up a fun prank while in the suit to mess with the fans and give them a laugh. But during one instance, one of the fans took Will’s humor a little too seriously.

“One of my usual tricks is to go up to a couple, and put my arm around the girl and push her boyfriend away, like I was stealing his girlfriend,” he says. “It’s usually very funny and gets some good laughs from the crowd, but one time at a football game last year I did this same gag and some guy was ready to fight me. I mean, this guy stood up and tried to body Will D. Cat for stealing his girl. Come on, man.”

While darting around athletic events, it appears to fans like nothing can stop Will D. Cat, and it’s true. But little do they know how much the student inside the suit is sweating.

“Think about it. Imagine wearing the thickest rug you’ve ever seen, and then jump and run for two hours. Taking the head off after a game ranks up there with some of the best feelings in the world. It’s like, ‘Oh my god, this is what it’s like to breathe.”

Last year, the mascots got a new suit that has fur twice as thick as the old one. Some mascot suits have mesh parts that are more breathable, but Will D. Cat’s is layers and layers of fur. 

“It gets exhausting, especially the early football games, or August, September, when it’s 80 degrees out, it’s brutal,” Will D. Cat #2 says. 

It’s also pretty tough to see. 

“It’s all dark. You can’t see much,” Will D. Cat #2 says. “You can only see what’s directly in front of you. Sometimes you miss high fives or people want to take pictures with you, stuff like that, you never want to upset a fan. And then people say, ‘Oh, he’s ignoring me,’ but really you actually just can’t see the person.”

But even with the extreme temperatures inside the suit or difficulty seeing, mascots must maintain Will’s persona as the coolest ‘Cat on campus, who isn’t scared of anything, and is anything but clumsy. He’s a “smooth lady’s man [who’s] not afraid to go up to certain people,” Will D. Cat #2 says.

In the end, it’s all about making others happy and giving fans the best opportunity to have a great time.

“I really just wanna go out there and have fun,” Will D. Cat #1 says. “And the way I have fun when I’m in the suit is to make other people have fun. I make it a point to try to visit all sections of the crowd and mess around with them, give them a high five, whatever it is. Basically, anything you would do that’s funny, is 10x funnier when you’re in a giant cat suit. So I like to dance a lot. But mostly I just wanna enhance the fan’s experience at the game, however I can.”

Being Will D. Cat is about helping fans realize why they love Villanova so much and to make them feel special.

“At the end of the day, the most important part of being a mascot is getting fans excited and reminding them why they have so much pride and love for Villanova,” Will D. Cat #3 says. “It is important to make each individual feel important; they are coming out to support a team or event, so the mascot should be there to support [the fans]. Simply high-fiving a young child can make their entire day, and there are no words to describe how good it feels to have that impact on so many people’s lives. I guess you could call it my version of the Hannah Montana experience; and trust me, it is by far one of the best experiences I have had so far in my life.”