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Student ‘strove for greatness’ to be Leprechaun

By Katie McCarty | Thursday, September 5, 2013


Senior Johnny Romano used to dream about being a Notre Dame football player, but after realizing his body type was not well suited for the sport, he decided to take on a different role in Notre Dame Athletics and became the Notre Dame Leprechaun.

“I always wanted to be a football player, but when you are five feet and five-and-three-fourths inches tall, it’s a little hard,” Romano, a native of Glencoe, Ill., said. “So I strove for greatness, and what’s better than being a football player? The Notre Dame Leprechaun.”

Romano said the process to become the Leprechaun begins with a one-page essay about why the Leprechaun hopeful wants to be the official mascot of Notre Dame. Those applicants then participate in cheerleading tryouts.

“They try to see how you interact with the team,” Romano said. “They would pull you aside and tell you to pump the cheerleaders up and then give you different situations to get the crowd going.”

Ten to 15 hopefuls are then cut down to six finalists, who learn some of the finer points of what it takes to be the Leprechaun.

“They taught us the jig, and then we had a push-up contest, a mini pep rally and a game time situation,” Romano said. “After that, we each had an interview with a panel of six people, which included representatives from different departments, like Athletics. Usually, the previous leprechaun is there, too.”

Romano said he was not nervous during the process.

“I have nerves of steel,” he said. “I had been a leprechaun the year before, so this was my second year. I was just trying to get the top spot.”

This past weekend was the University’s first football game, and Romano said the experience was exciting.

“The pep rally was fun, but at the game it did not really hit me that I was the Leprechaun until they said ‘Here Come the Irish’ and I had the flag on the field,” he said. “I just didn’t want to get trampled by the football team.”

During the game, Romano tried to rally the crowd.

“I try to get fans engaged during key plays,” he said. “I get them pumped up, especially with the volley cheers that include whole stadium.” 

Notre Dame Football is a tradition in Romano’s family, he said. His grandfather played on the football team from 1946 to 1949 and helped the Irish win three national championships. 

Attending the University is also a tradition in the Romano family.

“My father went here,” Romano said. “Eighteen of my first cousins have attended either Notre Dame or Saint Mary’s.”

Romano, a marketing major, says his plans are not concrete for after graduation. With a fluency in Spanish, Romano said he will either find a job or do a year of service in Honduras. “I lived for six years in Mexico because of my dad’s job,” Romano said. “I also studied abroad in Mexico during the sixth grade.”

When asked which of this season’s football games he is most excited about, Romano grinned.

“Michigan is in the Big House, USC is at night, and we are playing in the Dallas Cowboys Stadium,” Romano said. “Go Irish, beat Wolverines.” 

Contact Katie McCarty at