Campus Life

The Man Behind the Mask

The Student Life section of Utah State Today highlights work written by the talented student journalists at Utah State University. Each week, the editor selects a story that has been published in The Utah Statesman or the Hard News Café or both for inclusion in Utah State Today.

By Shelby StoorUSU Statesman, Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Genuine, humble and passionate describes Ian Anderson, who has spent the past two years dedicating his life to being one of the main faces of Utah State University, without ever showing his face.

Anderson lives behind the mask as Big Blue, USU’s mascot. He grew up right here in Cache Valley and attended Mountain Crest High School where he was on the cheer team before coming to USU.

“Growing up in the valley, I was always involved with Utah State. I did cheerleading in high school for one year in high school and I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the atmosphere and being at the sporting events,” he said.

Aggie fans of all ages love to watch Big Blue during games and events on campus. Devonna Bagley has been coming to Aggie games for many years and she enjoys the entertainment the mascot brings to the games.

“When I see Big Blue at the Aggie games and other events, I see some very outstanding personality traits, even under that costume disguise.  He is so fun to watch,never too busy to pay attention to the youngsters and the oldsters,” she said.  

Bagley has seen many mascots over the years, but she believes Big Blue is the absolute best.

“Of all the mascots I have observed over the past years, our Big Blue is truly number one. He is so entertaining that at times my attention is diverted to his antics and I miss some of the game,” she said.

After Anderson’s initial tryout for the spirit squad his freshman year, he was told he did not make it. However, Anderson did not let this deter him from trying out again after serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He made the team and spent two years as part of the spirit squad and was later encouraged to try out for Big Blue. Surprisingly, he did not immediately love being in the suit. 

“I hated it at first. I couldn’t see,” he said. “I was sweaty and I just didn’t like that aspect of it. But I loved getting to interact with people and being seen as the ultimate Aggie. As the time for the tryout got closer, I decided to try out and the rest is history.”

Anderson graduated from USU with his bachelor’s degree in international studies last May. He is currently working towards finishing up his master’s degree in higher education student affairs. Anderson also works full time for the university in admissions. Between school, work, spending time with his wife and being Big Blue, Anderson has had to use his time effectively.

“During October and November, I’m spending 30 or more hours a week in the suit, so it’s a full time job. We are required to practice two-three times a week so I’m at practice between five-seven hours a week,” Anderson said. “Big Blue is required to go to all of the women’s sports, men’s basketball and football. Then once or twice a week, we have a community event. Between grad school, work and Big Blue it’s been crazy. It’s been worth it though and enjoyable.”

Spirit squad director, Nicole Troumbley has had the opportunity to work with Anderson for many years. Troumbley has loved getting to know Anderson and see him grow through his time in the spirit squad and as Big Blue.

“He’s so passionate about the program up here and continuing to build it and make it better,” she said. “I also think he has a really good level of maturity and understanding. It’s not just about him but it’s about his team, the people that came before him and the people that will
come after him. He’s done a really good job of keeping that team mentality in check.”

Anderson’s dedication and hard work have made him an asset to the team both as a spirit squad member and as Big Blue.

“He has come forward with ideas wanting to make people in the Big Blue suit more connected from year to year. So there’s more of a connection and unity of those that have been in the suit,” Troumbley said.

Senior Chandler Meyer has known Anderson and worked with him on the spirit squad for the past four years. He has enjoyed getting to work with Anderson and watch him grow in his position as Big Blue.

“Ian is a natural leader. He is really good at staying calm while also making sure things get done professionally and on schedule,” Meyer said.

Meyer believes Anderson did a great deal to add to the character and personality of Big Blue.

“He went out of his way to do extra events and make people’s day just because he loved it so much. I know that he felt a really big responsibility in the community and I think he fulfilled that completely,” he said. “He made sure to keep Big Blue up with the times by getting him social media accounts while also sticking to his character that everyone in this community loves.”

Troumbley believes Anderson’s team mindset has also given the USU spirit squad something to strive for.

“He’s very team-oriented. It’s been a huge advantage with him as a spirit squad member and especially as Big Blue. Big Blue is a bit of a separate entity because they have such different requirements. Ian has really tried to keep it as a unified position within the spirit squad and I’ve really appreciated that,” she said.

Troumbley has been very impressed at Anderson’s ability to remain anonymous during his time as USU’s mascot.

“A lot of people have a hard time not getting credit for what they do. I’ve been really impressed with Ian the last two years. He almost enjoys that anonymity,” she said. “I think that says a lot about his work ethic. He’s more intrinsically motivated than a lot of his peers. The more secretive they keep it, the more people want to know.”

Anderson said staying anonymous was difficult for a number of reasons.

“My parents, wife and her family knew. I don’t like to say it, but I’ve told a lot of lies over the last couple of years. I had a lot of friends who knew I was on the spirit squad so I would tell them I was a manager or a coach. So they knew I wasn’t on the floor anymore which led to a lot of questions,” Anderson said.

After his unveiling at a recent basketball game, Anderson has been met with mixed reactions from his family, friends and other university members who were unaware that he was Big Blue.

“Some of my closer friends that never knew were a little upset. But I’ve had a lot of complete strangers say things to me now It’s a good feeling to be recognized for it now,” he said. “I’ve met a lot of cool and influential people through it, but no one ever knew it was me. I loved that because I got to just be me. The weirdest part of being unveiled was taking it off. All I wanted to do was put it back on.”

Troumbley said Anderson will be greatly missed by the entire team in coming years.

“He’s very encouraging to the people around him. He’s a very warm and welcoming presence. And because he understands the spirit squad and the Big Blue side, he’s very well respected. He can come in and encourage his team members from both sides and they know he’s a legitimate resource. He’s always very positive, upbeat and trying to get a laugh out of people,” she said.

Anderson’s wife, Rachel, has loved having the chance to watch her husband be Big Blue.

“It’s been more fun for me to see him as Big Blue because he’s able to come up and see me during the game and interact with my family,” she said. “I actually have a little cousin who is in love with Big Blue but he had no clue it was Ian. It’s been really fun just interacting with him and watching him.”

Rachel admitted keeping his identity for a secret was a bit of a struggle, but that they definitely did the best they could.

“I’m not the world’s best secret keeper. It was really hard because he was on the stunt team so long. It didn’t last long with my family. If you know him well, it’s easy to tell it’s him so some people figured it out. For the most part, we kept it a good secret,” she said.

The Andersons are both sad to be moving on from USU and Big Blue, but they are excited for wherever life will be taking them next.

“I’m in PA school at ISU and he has applied for a PHD. So wherever he gets in, we will go and I’ll get a job while he gets to school. I’m happy to be moving on but super sad. I’m going to miss coming to all of these games and know it’s him in the suit. We are happy to be moving on with our lives but it’s definitely bittersweet,” Rachel said.

Ian said without his experiences through the spirit squad, his college experience wouldn’t be even close to the same.

“My future and education goals have all been shaped by the spirit squad. I knew I wanted to be involved. I was involved in a lot of other student organizations within USUSA. I worked as a connections mentor and as a student mentor for the athletes.” Anderson said. “Because of those experiences, I’ve chosen higher education. I want to be able to influence students the way that Linda Zimmerman, Nicole Troumbley, Erik Olsen and James Morales have influenced me.”

Anderson has many fond memories of his time as Big Blue, but some of his favorites are the community events he has been able to attend.

“Some of the best memories I’ve had are the little events like at an elementary school rather than at the big sporting events. Those smaller ones are more memorable and meaningful,” Anderson said. “When you’re walking down the hall at an elementary school, and a little kid runs up and give you a hug – nobody is able to see your emotions expressed. But I’ve definitely shed tears under there because it’s easy to see Big Blue is those kids’ hero.”

Big Blue tryouts are being held March 29 in the Spectrum to replace Anderson. His advice for those with a desire to tryout is to just be themselves.

“Big Blue has certain characteristics and attributes. Everyone brings their own thing to the character as well. Watching videos and going to athletic events to watch the current Big Blues is important, but also bring your own personality into it,” Anderson said.

Creativity is also a big part of the job, Anderson said. Those who try out are put through a variety of situations to test out how comfortable they are in any situation.

“Go out there, put it on and be yourself. That’s all they want to see,” he said.

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