He has shared the court with the likes of basketball Broadcaster Jim Valvano. He has shaken the hands of basketball royalty such as former UNC Coach Dean Smith. He has shared a mound with former Mets pitcher Bartolo Colón at Citi Field. And, he has outwitted and outsmarted the best of opponent mascots.
He is Lucas the Stag, Fairfield University’s lovable mascot, who entertains one and all with his antics and dance moves at athletic contests, community events, homecoming and other University events and functions, and even occasional weddings.
Lucas has been the one constant throughout Fairfield’s athletics history, serving as a connection between generations of student-athletes and Fairfield fans. While his on-court and sideline antics may define him from the public standpoint, Lucas is more than just fur and antlers. He has heart. He has soul. He has passion. And those qualities all come from deep inside the mascot himself through the vision and perceptions of the student who brings Lucas to life every time he or she dons the costume.
Over the years, students have accepted and embraced the responsibility that comes with serving as Fairfield University’s number one fan.
Justin Pelazza ’17 currently has the honor of serving as Lucas the Stag, a position he has held for the last four years. For Pelazza, Lucas provides him with the opportunity to be a part of the athletics program while making a dream come true.
“When I came to Fairfield as a freshman, I wanted to be involved with athletics in some way,” Pelazza said. “As a kid, it was always my dream to be a mascot because I thought it would be a cool job. I had the personality for it and like making people laugh, so I went for it.”
Pelazza was also part of Lucas’ makeover last year when the Marketing and Athletics Departments gave the mascot a new look. Lucas has received several updates over the last few decades, but for Pelazza, this particular unveiling was especially distinct.
“One of my more memorable moments was during my junior year when we unveiled the new Lucas,” Pelazza recalled. “It sticks out for me because the University doesn’t change the look of the mascot very often, so it meant a lot to me when I was able to be part of it. I’ll always be able to say I was the first Lucas in that suit.”
Another former mascot is Joseph Milligan ’00, a former football wide receiver who took on Lucas’ persona during his career at Fairfield.
Like Pelazza, Milligan, who currently teaches in the Norristown, Penn. school district and coaches football as well as track and field, gleaned his mascot inspiration from his childhood and tried to blend those memories into his own style for Lucas. He pointed to the Phillie Phanatic (mascot of the Philadelphia Phillies) and also the mischievous San Diego Chicken, who may have had a greater influence on him than he thought.
“I remember one men’s basketball game when we played LIU in a four-team tournament,” Milligan said. “It was the night before our last football game of the season against Central Connecticut. The LIU Blackbird and I were supposed to have a mock fight, but it did not end that way. I just happened to knock off the Blackbird’s head and the next thing I know I was about to be taken away by one of the officers. All I could think of was how I was going to explain to [Head Football Coach Kevin] Kiesel why I couldn’t play the next day.”
Milligan’s value on the court as a mascot paled in comparison to his contribution on the gridiron. He tallied 127 catches for more than 1,500 yards and 16 touchdowns during his career. Despite his prowess on the football field, Milligan’s only national television exposure did not come as a football player, but rather as a mascot.
“One of the most memorable days for me as Lucas was when I was invited to participate in ESPN’s 25th anniversary show,” Milligan said. “It was a great experience to be part of a big event and to be involved with ESPN.”
Milligan and Pelazza aren’t the only student-athletes to make an impact on the life of Lucas the Stag. Former cross-country runner Ronan Ryan ’96, now president of IEX (Investors Exchange) and an electronic trading expert, was also actively involved with entertaining and encouraging Fairfield fans as the mascot. And like his fellow students, Ryan was able to put his own mark on the legend.
“There were many things that I remember about my time as Lucas,” Ryan said. “There was one women’s [basketball] game in particular when I asked a bunch of my friends to attend. The team was really happy that we were there and it mattered more to them than a typical game, which was important to me. We brought signs and really went wild that game.”
Going wild is part of the milieu of being Lucas and Ryan found ways to execute that part of Lucas’ personality on occasion. On one night, his improvisation turned a rather intense moment into a lighter situation.
“There was one game that was pretty tense and I jumped into the crowd,” Ryan said. “Someone broke off one of the antlers while I was in the stands. To keep the energy going, I used the broken antler to hit a frying pan that another fan brought to the game rather than a drumstick. The crowd seemed to love it but the Athletics Department not so much. It seems that the costumes are more expensive to fix than you would think. It was pretty funny though.”
Ryan, like all mascots, was able to get people to laugh with his routines and his antics. But come to find out, not all of the comedy was intentional.
“I didn’t have a signature move except maybe walking into things,” Ryan said. “Vision was so impaired it was ridiculous. I used to walk into things and people thought I did it for comedic effect. But, I just couldn’t see. The eye holes were a good inch or more away from my eyes and were just small slots, so it was very hard to see out of the head.”
Softball infielder Riannon Thomas ’08 served as Lucas during her four years at Fairfield University.
Thomas was also a very good student, which led to a rather surprising moment for Lucas and then University President Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J., when the president came to honor student-athletes for their scholarship.
“I was working as Lucas the night that the Athletics Department honored student-athletes with a 3.0 or higher GPA,” Thomas said. “I wanted to go out on the floor with my fellow Stags but I was in the mascot costume. So I made the executive decision to go as Lucas and shake Fr. von Arx’s hand. I think Fr. von Arx had gotten into a groove with the hand shaking as he was a bit surprised when he looked up and saw Lucas standing there.”
Being a student-athlete had its benefits for Thomas and the other student-athletes who took on Lucas’ schedule. The cross training and conditioning were especially useful for Thomas.
“The conditioning certainly benefited me,” Thomas said. “I used to run the stairs at the Arena to mock the Rocky scene whenever “Eye of the Tiger” came on. You have to be constantly moving and engaging people. Plus, the Stag head was heavy and very hot, so being in shape as an athlete helped.”
It’s rare that a person can have so much anonymity in such a public job, but that’s a perk that being a mascot can offer someone. And it’s that feature that has made so many students feel freer to let their guard down when in the public eye.
“It was a lot of fun to do and act like a clown without everyone knowing who you were,” Ryan said. “I had a great time at Fairfield for four years and being the mascot was just one of the many funny events for me.”
Thomas agreed, “Nobody knew it was me except for a select few. There could be no shame in my game.” ●F