At Sam Houston State University, when students hear the name “Sammy,” a talented orange-clad furry creature that epitomizes school spirit tends to come to mind. However, many fail to think about the two students they tend to see following Sammy around. No, they’re not adoring fans or celeb-struck stalkers; they’re Sammy’s bodyguards.
Senior criminal justice and political science double major Brad Ertl has spent the last three years of his college career accompanying Sammy on his appearances while making sure he is safe and protected.
“Sammy needs a bodyguard for various reasons,” Ertl said. “Sammy’s bodyguards are basically his right hand men. If Sammy needs anything, he just gives me a sign and I get it for him. That could be anything from a drink of water, to taking a picture, to stopping a toddler (or an adult) from pulling on his tail. Sammy’s bodyguards protect him in situations that we feel may be dangerous for Sammy.”
James Federbush, a junior and a double major in physics and computer science is currently learning the ropes during his first year as Sammy’s bodyguard.
“I am still learning as I go, but the main thing is to learn his signals for when he wants to go home, wants water or is in need of some help,” Federbush said. “Being Sammy’s bodyguard usually involves setting up appearances, making sure there is no danger, making sure he has his uniforms cleaned and ready for his appearances and making sure he gets to his appearances in a timely fashion as well. We make sure he and his fans are safe and most importantly having a good time.”
Both of Sammy’s guardians said that one of the main reasons they decided to apply to become a part of Sammy’s team was because it was a way to become more engaged with on-campus activities.
“I had an interest in being Sammy’s bodyguard because I really enjoy getting involved with things at school,” Ertl said. “I had heard during my freshman year about how good of a mascot Sammy was, a three-time national champion, and wanted to be involved in a program that had been so successful. I also couldn’t help but laugh when I saw Sammy on campus for career fairs, basketball games, etc.”
According to both Ertl and Federbush, the process to become one of Sammy’s bodyguards is pretty straightforward including an interview in May during tryouts in which the candidates are evaluated by a panel of interviewers to verify that he or she has what’s in Sammy’s best interest at heart.
“The only real way to learn how to be a bodyguard for Sammy is just to do it,” Ertl said. “When I started, Sammy taught me all of his signs for his various needs. I slowly learned what they meant. It’s kind of cool because now, I usually know what Sammy needs even before he tells me. Someone who’s interested in being Sammy’s bodyguard really just needs to have a strong sense of loyalty and commitment to our university’s favorite furry character.”
Although there are only two bodyguards on Sammy’s “secret service team,” Ertl also said that the two sometimes elicit help from their friends for long events like football games so they don’t have to work the entire time. According to Federbush, this is because Sammy is a very active Kat which makes their jobs as his bodyguards very tiring.
“We like to have a bodyguard with Sammy at all of his appearances and sometimes have two bodyguards with him,” Ertl said. “At large events, such as football games, Sammypalooza or Party in the Pit, we like to have two bodyguards just simply because of how many people attend these events. Sometimes people make dumb decisions and it’s always good to have two people who can watch Sammy’s back at all times.”
According to Federbush, one of Sammy’s biggest pet peeves is getting picked on. Students can help Sammy and his bodyguards do their jobs by refraining from doing things that Sammy may not like or by politely telling those who are, to stop.
“Sammy adores his fans; whether they are liking his posts on Facebook or just in person giving him high fives, hugs, taking pictures with him, or really anything that is fun for everyone,” Federbush said. “He really does not like to get picked on, or have his fur or tail pulled—who does? So if you see someone doing that just ask them nicely to stop otherwise he may just want to leave because he does not believe everyone is having fun.”
Ertl echoed Federbush’s advice for Sammy’s fans urging students to stick up for Sammy.
“When you see Sammy, have fun with him,” Ertl said. “He enjoys nothing more than interacting with all of us students. When you see someone picking on him or pulling his tail, stick up for him. He loves chilling with people but when someone starts picking on him, he loses all interest. Also, if you want a picture with Sammy please have your camera ready and I will be more than willing to take it for you—that’s my job. All in all, look out for him. He loves and respects all Bearkats and I think that we should reciprocate those feelings.”
Both Ertl and Federbush recounted their favorite memories as Sammy’s bodyguards thus far. For Ertl, that experience occurred during his first year as Sammy’s bodyguard when he was able to travel across the country to Bozeman, MT and both support the SHSU football team and protect Sammy during the quarterfinal football game in 2012, which was aired on ESPN 2.
“Being from Wisconsin, I remember myself laughing at everyone complaining about how ‘cold’ it was; it was only about 25 degrees with the wind chill,” Ertl said. “Going to Montana with Sammy my first year as a bodyguard was by far the most fulfilling experience that I’ve had as his bodyguard. I hope that it will be only one memory, in a box of many.”
For Federbush, his most notable experience with Sammy in the short time span he has been a bodyguard has included getting to be a part of making fans joyful and excited.
“One of the most fun [events] was Casino Night in the Lowman Student Center on campus in which we went and played different casino games with a lot of the student organizations on campus and everyone enjoyed playing cards against Sammy,” Federbush said. “Win or lose, it was just a whole lot of fun.”
Both bodyguards expressed that they would certainly like to continue working with Sammy in the years to come.
“In the short time I have been his bodyguard I have gotten to go watch the home football games, hangout with Sammy on campus and go where ever he goes,” Federbush said. “It is one of the most fun experiences I have had in college so far and it is only just the beginning of the year.”
For Ertl, his experience as Sammy’s bodyguard has been so meaningful it has even made him reconsider his future plans.
“I will absolutely continue being Sammy’s bodyguard,” he said. “I don’t know of anything that has positively impacted my life more. I won’t graduate until spring 2016 because I’m a double major with a minor in legal studies and I plan on being Sammy’s bodyguard until that time. I love it so much that it makes me ponder going to graduate school.”
Through every appearance, event and social engagement Sammy’s bodyguards attend, their ultimate goal is ensuring safety while enhancing fun.
“I like to say that I’m Sammy’s personal assistant, I get him whatever he wants, when he wants it, and how he wants it,” Ertl said. “Most important of all, I ensure Sammy’s safety when he’s out in public. Sometimes people like to get a little rough with Sammy and it’s my job to resolve those incidents as quickly and safely as possible. My number one goal is to make sure that Sammy and Sammy’s fans are safe at all times. The safer he feels, the more he is willing to do, and therefore the more fun everyone has.”
Sammy’s fans can follow his day-to-day activities by “liking” his Facebook page “Sammy Bearkat.”