BYU’s beloved mascot Cosmo the Cougar is known for his flips, tricks and impressive dance moves whether he’s making appearances at sporting events or performing viral dances with the Cougarettes.

Cosmo’s look and costume have changed drastically over the years, but no matter who is inside it, the excitement it brings to every event remains constant.

BYU’s mascot got its name after BYU was named a “cosmopolitan” school in 1953.

Now, several decades later, Cosmo is as popular as ever, begging the question, “Who is Cosmo?” While there are many guesses and assumptions, his identity remains a mystery.

Cosmo gets its start with a tryout on the dunk team. After years of training, the best are picked to wear the costume — usually a senior. According to several sources, many students play Cosmo since there are numerous appearances each year.

Underneath the costume

The first person to play Cosmo was Daniel T. Gallego in 1953. The costume reportedly cost $73.

During the ’60s and ’70s, university presidents Ernest L. Wilkinson and Dallin H. Oaks donned the Cosmo costume and then revealed their identity during school gatherings and sporting events.

Wilkinson was inside the costume in 1960, and President Oaks played Cosmo at a BYU basketball game in 1979.

Former BYU football coach LaVell Edwards was Cosmo when the Cougars hosted Utah in a basketball game in 1981.

Today’s Cosmo is very athletic; however, for the first 40 years, Cosmo wasn’t allowed to do any flips or tricks. The main role was to simply jump and cheer.

In 1976 Cosmo began dunking the basketball as it led the team out of the locker room before the game. An opposing team’s coach was once overheard saying, “Man, their mascot’s dunking, we’re in trouble.”

After a touchdown in 1980 at the “Miracle Bowl” against Southern Methodist University, Cosmo ran to the end zone to help the referees pull players off of tight end Clay Brown.

Beginning in the 1990’s, simple interactions with the crowd caused some technical difficulties with the early Cosmo costume. It was big and bulky and restricted simple movements like turning its head.

Cosmo underwent some major costume design upgrades to help fix these problems in 1997. Cosmo now has a full range of motion and improved sightline.

The Cosmobile — the mascot’s van — helps Cosmo maintain secrecy by giving the mascot a place to prepare and get dressed for events in private. When Cosmo is getting ready for home events, it has its own changing room in the Smith Fieldhouse.

There are four different costumes, allowing Cosmo to have everything packed and ready for his next event while having a fresh, clean costume to perform in.

There are nearly 600 events for Cosmo per year with up to a dozen events per week. Football and basketball seasons include larger events, which take a great deal of time and effort to prepare for.

The university wants Cosmo to be a character, an important part of BYU, not just a person playing a mascot, so the people who wear the costume are under strict rules to not reveal their identity during their time as a student, though some have come forward afterward to reveal themselves.

Aaron G. MaGavock was Cosmo from 1999 to 2001 and went on to be a professional mascot for the NBA, AAA baseball and the UFL.

“It’s very much like Bruce Wayne and Batman,” McGavok said, “knowing that in my day job as a student I was just like everyone else, but at various events, Cosmo got to be the center of attention and the cougar that everyone looked to for entertainment.”

McGavok described his last experience as Cosmo as the most memorable.

“It was graduation and I had gone through the line as myself. Everyone else was wearing church dress clothes under their graduation cap and gown, (but) I was wearing shorts and a T-shirt and my bare legs were sticking out from underneath.”

After his name was read, McGavok ran to the changing area in the Smith Fieldhouse, quickly changed and got back in line with the graduate students.

“I filled out the name card and the dean was so busy with the previous students in line he didn’t realize that Cosmo was standing next to him graduating until he picked up the card and read the name, ‘Cosmo!’ The crowd erupted in cheers,” McGavok said. “I started the wave and I’m sure everyone involved, with the exception of possibly the dean, had a very memorable graduation.”

McGavok said BYU has always kept the identity of the mascot under wraps, explaining that not even his parents knew until he went home for Christmas and had knee surgery for a Cosmo-related injury.

“It’s actually good that they do try to keep things a secret because it keeps the character separate from the goofy students that often portray him,” McGavok added. “My roommates were really good at keeping things under wraps as well and often covered for my missed dates and others that thought they had figured things out.”

Matthew Richardson, current BYU advancement vice president, was McGavok’s bishop at the time and was one of the few who knew the secret, outside of his roommates and the cheer squad.

Rich Summers, who replaced McGavok as Cosmo from 2001-2004, said the closest comparison to being a mascot is dressing up for Halloween.

“At Halloween parties, you are allowed and encouraged to act crazy and no one thinks it’s weird,” Summers said. “Cosmo gets to pretend it’s Halloween all year long.”

Summers recalled one of his favorite memories as Cosmo at the rivalry basketball game against the University of Utah in December 2003.

“There was a timeout where both Swoop and Cosmo were on stilts, walking around trying to get their fan base loud. Cosmo was shooting some T-shirts in the stands but decided instead to fire a T-shirt directly at Swoop,” Summers recalled. “The T-shirt hit Swoop directly in the face, and Swoop fell from the stilts and landed on the court. That was the loudest applause I have witnessed at a basketball game.”

Modern Cosmo

After the song, the entire LaVell Edwards stadium erupted and the iconic performance went viral.

Cougarettes coach Jodi Maxfield elaborated on the collaboration and what she looks for in Cosmo.

“It has to be someone who can pick up choreography and can keep up with the Cougarettes quite frankly,” Maxfield said. “It didn’t happen a lot in that past, but we happened to collaborate with this individual who wears the Cosmo costume.”

Maxfield said much time was spent in preparation leading up to the performance on the field.

“The Cougarettes came up with the music, my captains did the choreography and sent it to (Cosmo) in a video so he could learn it and then come in and rehearse with the Cougarettes,” Maxfield said. “The rest was history after that.”

When asked if there were any concerns with Cosmo performing the dance, Maxfield said, “Everyone loves Cosmo. We knew that going into this collaboration. I told the dancers, ‘Be prepared to be upstaged by him.'”

On Jan. 27, the Cougarettes once again performed with Cosmo and the original artists, Ayo and Teo, during halftime at the BYU-Pacific basketball game.

Hannah Gasinski
Cosmo and the Cougarettes dancing alongside Ayo and Teo at the BYU vs. Pacific basketball game on Jan. 27. (Hannah Gasinski)

The Marriott Center was packed, and the performance didn’t disappoint.

They originally tried to schedule the performance during the football season, but couldn’t find a game when Ayo and Teo were available.

“We put it on hold for a little bit but they really wanted to come here to Provo to perform,” Maxfield said. “It was a lot of fun and we made it work. We knew it was going to be huge.”

In addition to the Cougarettes, Cosmo regularly collaborates and performs with the BYU Dunk Team, where he shows off more acrobatic and challenging tricks.

“Cosmo brings a lot of skills to this team,” said dunk team member Charlie Bird. “He brings out a lot of creativity and team unity because we all have to work together. We are always telling him to do this, try that — we are always bouncing ideas off of each other.”

Beyond the dunks and tricks, the team admires the impact Cosmo has on the community, bringing joy into people’s lives.

“Cosmo brings a lot of light to everyone he comes into contact with,” said teammate Sayre Stewart. “It’s something that is really special to watch. Cosmo is more than just a mascot; he brings joy to a lot of people who are sick, struggling or having a hard time.”

They added that Cosmo can go from entertaining thousands at a sporting event, to focusing on the individual when visiting children in hospitals.

“Cosmo always says that it’s all about making each individual person happy,” Stewart said. “Cosmo is everyone’s best friend, he acts like that all the time. He is everyone’s personal mascot.”

Mark A. Philbrick
Cosmo at a BYU football game against Fresno State on Nov. 21, 2015. (Mark A. Philbrick)