Dog years fly by quickly, and for the human behind Ferris State’s beloved dog, they came to an emotional end at the Feb. 8 hockey game versus Northern Michigan.
Zach Totten skated out onto center ice, lights went out, a spotlight shined and he shimmied off his mask.
The crowd cheered with excitement when they realized that their favorite Ferris character was one of their fellow Big Rapids residents.
Totten dreamed about becoming Brutus for years. For him, it was an emotional investment and a deep-seeded passion rather than just a chance to be funny for his peers.
“I became Brutus in the summer of 2010, which was shortly after graduating from high school here in Big Rapids,” Totten said. “Growing up and seeing Brutus at all of the hockey games, it just made me want to be that and put all the smiles on the faces like he did back in the day.”
Being the mascot of a school can be a very difficult thing because eyes are always on you during the games.
“I was very nervous when I became Brutus,” Totten said. “It is weird because no one knows who you are so ultimately it does not matter. There are always people looking at you, so you have to stay in character no matter what, even if you are tired or hot.”
Brutus has some of the best perks at a school besides getting scholarships and being able to entertain every single person in the arena.
“Not only was I able to be president of the Student Alumni Gold Club,” Totten said, “but I was able to travel with the hockey team to Tampa and Green Bay as they made their way to the top of the NCAA.”
When someone thinks about being a mascot, most people would say that it is extremely hot and very smelly, but Totten and the dawg handlers take care of the suit with vigor.
“One of our sayings on the Brutus committee is that it is ultimately 40 degrees hotter inside the suit than outside,” Totten said. “Pete’s cleaners cleans it out at least once a week. Huge shout out to them! They do it for free and help us out every time we come in.”
Training for Brutus was one of the events every mascot must go through by going to camp with mascots from other schools.
“Initially, we would work with the old mascots,” Totten said. “They kind of trained me and I would just watch them. As far as actual training, the mascot crew went to camp at UW Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the summer of 2011. We participated in a camp with about 50 other mascots from D1 and D2.”
By seeing how other schools’ programs performed, it helped Totten learn what it truly means to be the face of Ferris.
“Our program compared really well, so that camp kind of taught us everything we needed to know about being a mascot whether it be taking care of your suit or hosting tryouts,” Totten said. “As well as how to perform and improvising, enthusiasm, and emotions and everything.”
Totten was not the only one behind the mask of Brutus.
“The dog handling crew and I handle all of the events,” dog-handling team member Shannon Ramso said. “We get him ready in the suit, make sure he has all of the equipment he needs, like hockey skates or a sled. We help him lace his skates and put on his gloves because he cannot. We also get him his water and help him take breaks.”
Being part of the dog handling committee can be just as stressful and exciting as actually being in the suit.
“My favorite part of my job is being part of the experience of Brutus,” Ramso said. “Just everything together, the excitement of the crowd, the reactions the people have when they see him, the excitement in his actions and how excited he is to be there and do it.”
Brutus and his dog handling committee have such a great challenge on their backs because of the fact that they must protect Totten’s identity when out of the suit.
“Keeping it a secret was really tough because being a student in high school, when Ferris was on Spring Break I had to do all of the events,” Totten said. “A lot of people from the community thought it was me from the start, but keeping it a secret was more or less lying.”
Having Totten as Brutus for over four years really had an impact on not only himself but on everyone around him.
“We had Zach for so long, so I definitely think it will be a big change having a new Brutus,” Ramso said. “It will be difficult because Zach is amazing at what he does. So getting the new Brutus to a point to get everything to be as fun as Zach made it will be tough.”
The emotional connection Totten shared with his character was ultimately enough to bring many to tears inside the Ewigleben Ice Arena on Feb. 8.
And Totten doesn’t regret one second of that.