La J’ai Reed
(Rock Hill, S.C.) — At any Winthrop University athletic event, a large, white bird can be seen making his way through the stands. Since 1975, the Winthrop Eagle has stood as a symbol for the institution and out of this declaration Big Stuff was born.
Clapping it up with fans, holding decorated signs and dawning the university’s garnet and gold Big Stuff enhances the Winthrop sports experience. As Winthrop’s official mascot, this spirited eagle brings a lot of fun and smiles to the campus community.
Grant Nicholson, an environmental studies major, has served as Big Stuff for the past three years and he says he has enjoyed every second of what he calls his “job.”
“One of my favorite things about being a mascot is that I get to make people happy,” Nicholson said. “I think that’s really my goal in any kind of situation.”
As the mascot, Big Stuff is expected to show enthusiasm, spirit and personality, while encouraging the teams and the fans.
Michael Covil, a sophomore sport management major, is arguably one of Winthrop’s biggest fan, considering he maintains his own brand, “Winthrop Live” on social media.
“I’m just insanely dedicated and I’m really just a really big sports fan in general — and having things at Winthrop you have more of a personal connection than say you would to a professional team,” Covil said.
Part of that connection is an ode to his personal relationship with Nicholson and how their brands play off each other during athletic events.
“We’ll shoot some videos and pictures to send to him to do his own thing with,” Covil said.
Covil said that Big Stuff’s presence brings a lot of positives for the athletic department and the university as a whole.
For Emily Erickson, Winthrop Athletics director of marketing and fan engagement, Big Stuff has become an important marketing tool.
“It’s a simple way for me to keep (the crowd) engaged, it’s not something I really have to coordinate or execute,” said Erickson. “You just kind of let him go do his thing and the crowd really does like him and gets into the things he does.”
With his energetic qualities, Big Stuff is required to be a team player with poise, especially when he steps off of Winthrop’s athletic fields and courts.
Along with sporting events, Big Stuff has also traveled across North and South Carolina representing the university at a number of venues.
“People love to see him out,” Erickson said. “That really does help that we can put him out there and get our brand out there as well.”
The athletic department makes him available for events like the Panthers’ Mascot Bowl Game, birthday parties and Read Across America Week.
“I love participating in community events, I think it’s so important to get out there in the community to engage the fans,” Nicholson said.
While Big Stuff has traveled many miles representing the institution, a close relative of his has gone missing in recent years.
Big Stuff’s younger sister Lil’ Stuff was introduced in 2014, but has not been seen in a number of athletic seasons.
“Originally, the costume that she wore was an older version of Big Stuff that they decorated to look like a girl,” Nicholson said.
“We joke that Lil’ Stuff flew South for the winter permanently,” Erickson said. “I do know it coincided with the rebrand of the athletic department and the newer and more improved Big Stuff suit.”
“I think that once the decision was made to get him a new suit, that Lil’ Stuff, kind of was left behind,” she said.
While Lil’ Stuff may have flown South, Winthrop Athletics is not opposed to seeing Lil’ Stuff return in the future.
Furthermore, Big Stuff is not opposed to it either, as Nicholson noted the importance of the mascot.
“A mascot is a tool, and it’s used to promote the university,” Nicholson said. “I’m here as a representative to try to get people to not only come to the university, maybe as a student or as a fan or someone, but I’m also there just to be a representation of who we are as Winthrop.”
Editor’s note: Most of the reporting for this story occurred last March, prior to the canceling of the NCAA tournament, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.