Behind the Boots: Kinesiology grad reveals himself as Sparty

October 17, 2023
Rau posing with Sparty in academic regalia in front of Spartan Stadium.
Rau with Sparty as he celebrated his graduation from the Kinesiology program.

Jacob Rau, a 2022 graduate of the Kinesiology program, spent four years as one of the nation’s most recognizable mascots – Sparty. 

Having come from a long line of Spartan graduates, the Flushing, Michigan, native took it upon himself to apply for the role after being convinced by those close to him, which included a family friend who had previously filled the size 22 boots.

The rigorous application process to become Sparty included an essay, multiple rounds of interviews, a physical assessment and one assignment sworn to secrecy by Rau. The MSU Alumni Office, which houses the Sparty Mascot Program, notified him  that a new chapter of his life had begun.

From hospital visits to weddings, deafening cheers from Spartan loyalists, to boos from foes in visiting arenas, Rau as Sparty saw it all. But one memory stands out.

“My outright favorite is always going to be 2021 when we beat [the University of] Michigan in football,” he said. “It was the most fun day of my life. It started with College GameDay* at 8:00 a.m. – I didn’t mind getting up at 6:00 a.m. for the noon kickoff. I remember thinking early in the third quarter, ‘Man, this might be over,’ but the next 45 minutes were an absolute whirlwind, and we came out on top.”

Ironically, Rau’s introduction to the Kinesiology program came during his sophomore year when Professor Emeritus Jim Pivarnik (who retired in 2022) approached Sparty’s handlers to conduct a study that measured strenuous activity in a mascot uniform. The study eventually gave just cause for a “back up” Sparty to travel with the team in order to prevent exhaustion.

“During that experience, I saw the breadth of what kinesiology covered and it caught my interest. It was the selling point,” said Rau.

That experience led to an interest in physical therapy, a career path that Rau is now pursuing through a doctor of physical therapy program.

Left: Rau with Interim President Teresa K. Woodruff, Ph.D. Middle and Right: Rau at various MSU Athletic events. Courtesy photos.

In adherence to a time-honored tradition, Rau kept his identity as Sparty anonymous until graduation, where he was permitted to reveal his identity. He credits his former supervisors at the MSU Alumni Office with making the Sparty experience an incredible one, along with being flexible in allowing him to manage coursework with mascot duties.

“Thank you to everyone who made it possible and made the experience what it is. It’s hard to be a mascot if nobody wants to see you. Every single time that I would step outside anywhere in that suit, I got a ‘Hi Sparty!’ no matter where I was in the country. It’s so awesome to see and it makes you so glad to do what you do,” he finished, “I’m so glad that there’s this big of a family no matter where you live..” 

*ESPN’s College GameDay by the Home Depot is a TV show set prior to football games. The show travels to a different campus or game site every week and typically features highly competitive matchups.