By Ryan Clark
ORLANDO – Before each game, for just a moment, he will walk out to the court to take it all in. He will stare at the frenzied crowd and watch the players warming up.
“I can’t believe I get to do this,” he will think.
And Thursday night, when Xavier takes on Maryland in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, it is possible Tom Kozlovich will do it all for the last time.
Kozlovich, a 22-year-old senior from Cleveland, is one of six students who serve as the mascots for Xavier—and he is the only senior who performs as both D’Artagnan and the Blob. While there may be a few other activities where he’ll appear as one of the mascots, Kozlovich knows this tournament run could be it.
“It’s been an amazing run,” says the biology major, who has been mascotting for Xavier since he was a freshman. “I literally get to be a different person for a few hours a day. It’s so much fun.”
But Kozlovich was not a mascot in high school. He was an athlete—a hockey player and track runner who dreamt of being a veterinarian. Injuries kept him from running at Xavier, so on Club Day he saw the cheerleaders advertising for mascot tryouts. He showed up, ran a mile, went through various exercises and created some impromptu routines.
The next thing he knew he’d made the team as a mascot.
“I kept thinking I’d get to hang out with cheerleaders, watch basketball games and be a part of the athletic environment,” he says.
And those four years have gone by so fast. But a couple of memories stand out from the rest, he says.
- “Last year’s UC game in Cintas,” he says. “I was the Blob for the second half. The roar of Cintas for that game – I’ve never heard it that loud and I’ve never seen our student section that insane before.”
- “Second, two years ago in Jacksonville in the NCAA Tournament, we were able to advance to the Sweet Sixteen," he says. "Not too many people can say they’ve stood on the floor during the NCAA Tournament. And on the plane ride on the way back home, I think it was (Makinde' London) who started rapping, and the whole team seemed to rap along with him. Nobody else gets to see that kind of stuff.”
That’s what makes it all worth it, he says. He gets no pay, no stipend or scholarship. And there are events fans never see that require Xavier mascots—like weddings, sometimes an hour’s drive away.
“But those special moments leave an impact,” he says.
He’ll be thinking about all of this as he dons the D’Artagnan costume in Orlando Thursday night, with hopes for one more Xavier victory. He’ll look out to the crowd and savor one last opportunity to walk on an NCAA court.
But there’s a bright future for Kozlovich. He got into Ohio State’s veterinary program on the first try—something 1,400 other applicants cannot say. He’s still following his childhood dream.
“X helped me stand out,” says Kozlovich, who also serves as President of XU Dance Marathon. “It was my experiences and my achievements at Xavier that propelled me forward.”
And as one chapter closes for him, another will begin.
“Thursday could be the last time I touch the costume,” he says. “But for the rest of my life I can say I’ve done this. I never planned on mascotting. Who knows what else I haven’t planned that will happen in the future?”