A burst of nervous energy surges through the crowd as the players take the field. Victory is only 10 yards away and everything depends on the final play. As the blue-clad Cougar runs into the end zone, the crowd erupts with joy and a cannon fires in celebration.
The BYU ROTC program brings an extra bang to Cougar football games by firing a vintage M120 75mm howitzer every time the Cougars score, and cadets line up to mark the score in pushups.
Cannon Crew Captain Nathan Keyes says the spirit of BYU crowds is contagious and the explosion of a cannon only adds to the cheering and volume.
“It’s a great experience to participate in the energy and feel the spirit,” Keyes said. “There is a greater camaraderie between cadets and the crowd that can grow every time there is a touchdown. It’s nice to be part of the vibrating energy.”
The cannon crew consists of trained ROTC cadets who have high endurance rates and upper body strength. Joining the cannon crew is not an easy tryout, involving a series of repeated pushup sets requiring matching speeds and synchronization. Only those who can perform the greatest amount of pushups in a synchronized formation make it onto the field of LaVell Edwards Stadium.
BYU ROTC’s “George Q” cannon adds to the fan experience at football games. The origin of the gameday tradition trace back to a mistake, when a vintage cannon was accidentally delivered to BYU through a paper work error. The ROTC gained ownership of the cannon after some debate. Keyes said he believes the cannon and the Cannon Crew help connect people with the ROTC program.
“There is no louder way to celebrate a touchdown than a cannon blast,” he said. “It shows the crowd that the army can be fun, too. The crowd can socialize with the cadets, they can familiarize with the cannon crew, and by doing so create a greater civilian-military relation.”
BYU Cannon Crew member Jake Lee said the George Q. Cannon has been welded shut to prevent the use of real ammunition, but the ROTC uses black powder to create the largest bang, sound and smoke possible.
“The pushups and cannon give us a chance to show off a little and challenge ourselves,” Lee said. “We put on a show and get to meet cool people on the sidelines, but the best part is the opportunity we have to show that the ROTC program is actually pretty cool.”
Lee said the Cannon Crew gives ROTC students the opportunity to bring out their competitive sides for the enjoyment of others. He said often times the people firing the cannon during the football games are first-year cadets and sometimes even students from the crowd.
“The ROTC program brings in competitive people,” Lee said. “This is an outlet for the competition and also a great advertising event for the ROTC program, because it really brings us out into the public eye.”