“Eat ’em up Cougars!”
A voice ripples through the crowded Smith Fieldhouse, breaking the silence after the customary pregame prayer.
It came from Martin Wright, a BYU volleyball superfan known as the “Ace Man.”
For every ace the Cougars record, Wright holds up his handmade, laminated signs that read “ACE” high above his head and tapes them to the railing.
“I noticed they didn’t keep track of the aces, so I started keeping track of the aces,” Wright said. “That was never a stat line that was ever kept. I think it’s important in life, whether it’s in a sporting activity or something else — if you see a need you should do something instead of sitting there and saying, ‘That would be nice.'”
Wright arrives at the fieldhouse at 5 p.m. and waits for an hour outside with 30–40 other superfans until the doors open in order to get his prized seat at the men’s games. He has 15 ace signs in a manilla folder, ready to be held up and taped on the railing.
“I just printed them off, and my daughter laminated them so that they can be reused for each game,” Wright said. “I wanted to upgrade the look and got help from (BYU men’s volleyball player) Dave Wishart, Brenden Sander’s uncle. Dave was a great help to come up with the current sign design.”
Being known as the “Ace Man” is a nice homage, but Wright said he doesn’t do it for the recognition.
“I started doing it for the players,” Wright said. “I could care less whether or not I was known as the ‘Ace Man’ or anything. For me it was more for the players and the parents.”
Wright has been cheering for the Cougars since he attended BYU for his undergraduate degree. The “Eat ’em up Cougars” tradition was born at a men’s basketball game during his senior year in 1979. Wright didn’t miss a single basketball or football game that year.
His own athletic pursuits were what brought him back to attending BYU events in 2013.
Wright started running at age 50, and in the last six years has completed 15 marathons, including the highly acclaimed Boston Marathon.
“A guy came up to me in my neighborhood and saw me mowing some grass and asked if I wanted to go running with them,” Wright said. “So I started going running, and it just happened that for some reason I was gifted.”
Wright said running marathons helps him understand what it means to be a high-caliber athlete. It is also what put him back in the stands. Wright was running a marathon in Los Angeles and met up with his daughter to attend a BYU vs. Long Beach State volleyball match. That was all it took to rekindle Wright’s passion for BYU sports.
In addition to the regular season games, he cheered on BYU in their last two NCAA volleyball national championship games in 2013 and 2016.
“I love hearing him at games,” freshman middle blocker Sam Cagle said. “A celebration of an ace is always followed with a glance to the ‘Ace Man?'”
Wright may have started his devotion to volleyball on the men’s side, but in 2015 he also brought his ace signs and tape to the women’s volleyball games.
“I remember when I first saw Martin at a game. I was a recruit and he did his ‘Eat em up Cougars,’ and it made the whole environment of BYU special,” freshmen women’s volleyball player Kennedy Redding said. “I look forward to talking to him, and it’s just cool to see how big of a supporter he is of our teams.”
Even though he said his family thinks he’s crazy, Wright said he’ll always stay true to the “Ace Man” spirit.
“If you have a passion, you’ve got to just do it and not worry about what other people say or think,” Wright said. “The players feed off that energy. BYU has the best home court advantage for both men’s and women’s volleyball in the nation.”