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Braun named leprechaun

Kathleen McDonnell | Wednesday, April 19, 2006

As the Notre Dame community anticipates this weekend’s Blue-Gold game, junior Kevin Braun has special reason to get pumped. Braun was selected as the newest Gold squad leprechaun April 7 and will appear on the Irish sidelines next season.

Those students setting sites on carrying the luck of the Irish to athletic teams must endure a rigorous try-out process. Clinics began March 28, and after trimming the original field of 11, six leprechaun prospects performed in front of judges April 7.

Judges ranged from head cheerleading coach, Jonette Minton, to representatives from the athletic directors office, academic services, student activities, alumni and a former leprechaun.

Each prospective leprechaun performed a sequence he designed to open the first football pep rally this fall. Candidates also acted out game situations and participated in mock media interviews. As a test of physical fitness, each hopeful also had to perform a number of traditional game push-ups – and according to Minton, not all made it.

“This year they had to do 50, and some collapsed before finishing,” she said.

The final test is a 15-minute individual interview, in which judges look to see “if the candidate has the right heart to be the person who represents Notre Dame,” Minton said.

The leprechaun was named Notre Dame’s official mascot in 1965. Before the reign of the leprechaun, a series of Irish terrier dogs nicknamed Clashmore Mike served as mascots after Knute Rockne was first presented one in 1930.

While the dogs presided over some of Notre Dame football’s days of glory, the live version of today’s Fighting Irish mascot “brandishes a shillelagh and aggressively leads cheers and interacts with the crowd, supposedly bringing magical powers and good luck to the Notre Dame team,” according to the university’s official athletic site.

The candidate with the highest number of points becomes the Gold squad leprechaun – the familiar face at football and men’s basketball games. But the second highest scorer earns the position of Blue squad leprechaun, who is responsible for cheering on women’s basketball, soccer and volleyball.

This year’s Gold squad leprechaun is Braun, a computer science major residing in Dillon Hall. A Landisville, Penn. native and natural redhead standing 5-foot-9, Braun has dreamed of ‘brandishing the shillelagh’ since freshman year.

“Though I’ve followed ND sports since I was a young boy, I’ve wanted to be the leprechaun since freshman year, when Dillon guys sitting near me in the stadium recommended it,” Braun said. “I’ve always had a penchant for going nuts during football games.”

As for this fall, Braun plans to continue Notre Dame traditions while introducing his own twists.

“I hope to bring back Irish dominance inside Notre Dame Stadium, and will incorporate the cheers and enthusiasm from past leprechauns, while trying to add my own wrinkles and get the ‘Here come the Irish’ cheer echoing through the Stadium again,” Braun said.

As the end of his mock pep rally try-out segment, Braun started up the ‘Here Come the Irish’ chant and planted the Notre Dame flag in the center of the pit.

He said he plans to plant the flag as the cheerleaders run out of the tunnel at the home opening Penn State game.

Braun has been auditioning all year long, according to Minton, as he has led the Blue cheerleading squad since the fall. As for what set him apart from the competition, Minton said, “his experience helped a lot, but also his electric enthusiasm for Notre Dame. He comes out there with this presence, he knows how to teach people to respond, and I think he’ll be awesome.”

She’s also confident in his game voice.

“He’s also terrific on the microphone – he did a great job with that at women’s basketball games,” Minton said. “I’ve seen him candid at pep rallies, and he just picks right up.”

Equally enthused about Braun is new Blue squad leprechaun, Juan Muldoon.

“Kevin Braun is an awesome guy and he has helped me learn the ropes every step of the way,” Muldoon said.

A current freshman from Siegfried Hall, Muldoon hails from Mexico City. Muldoon said support from friends and family has been crucial to his achievement. While his roommate helped Muldoon lift weights to ensure he could squeeze in the 50th push-up, Muldoon’s family offered encouragement.

“Of course now they are all very excited to see the very first Mexican leprechaun don the green cap and rally the Irish on.” Muldoon said.

Measuring “a solid five feet flat (plus an inch on a good day),” as he puts it, and possessing “the lucky beard and the enthusiasm of the truest leprechaun you’ll ever see,” Muldoon promises his heart to be Irish “through and through.”

An Irish heart is a characteristic both new leprechauns claim to possess and one that the job requires. And while being the mascot places a number of demands on an already full-time student, Braun said he feels the rewards are much greater than the costs.

“I cannot wait to be the face of Notre Dame next year, and get chills thinking about running out of the tunnel in front of 80,000 this fall,” he said.