ATLANTA — Theta Xi brother Kyle Hosford’s near-disaster story about being Buzz happened at a welcome reception for grad students on Tech Green at the heart of Georgia Tech’s campus. A student with an interest in some hands-on entomology wrapped up Hosford (suited up as the famed Yellow Jackets mascot) in a one-armed bear hug, as he recalled. Hosford tapped him, trying to surrender.
“He’s just like, ‘Oh, no, Buzz, are you a boy or a girl?’” Hosford said. “I’m both trying to escape from this death grip and also communicate Buzz is a boy.”
The grad student/bug altercation continued and Hosford, more fearful about being unmasked (Buzzes aim to keep their identities a secret) than suffering harm, took action.
“I actually hooked my leg between his and I just atomic body-dropped both of us to the ground and knocked the wind out of him,” Hosford said. “I managed to get away. I wagged my finger at him, and then I just took off to get away.”
This past Saturday was Hosford’s time to get away for good. After enrolling at Tech in the fall of 2011 and joining the squadron of students who animate Buzz in the spring of 2013, Hosford graduated with a degree in computer science. As is the tradition for Buzz students, he was given a piggyback ride by a current Buzz across the stage to receive his diploma, the first public reveal of his alter ego. At the end of a six-year run as the beloved mascot, he is believed to be the longest-serving Buzz in the 39 years that the whimsical yellow jacket has been an official member of the Tech spirit squad.
“I’m so lucky, just the way I ended up playing out my college career, I just happened to be able to do something that I think is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done for so long,” Hosford said. “That means the world to me.”
Hosford became captivated with the idea of becoming Buzz when he was a 3-year-old attending a Tech basketball game with his uncle and Buzz attempted to swallow his head, as Hosford recalled. Hosford said he actually heard the student breathing inside the costume.
“It didn’t really ruin it for me,” he said. “It made it more exciting because it was like, there’s a guy in there. That’s so cool.”
A Lakeside High graduate, Hosford didn’t immediately pursue Buzz-dom upon arrival at Tech, but was asked to try out by two fraternity brothers who also were Buzzes. He auditioned in spring 2013 and was accepted. (There are typically six to eight students who serve as Buzz in a school year to spread out the demand for appearances.)
Hosford has performed as Buzz roughly 275 times, including Tech athletic contests of all stripes, birthday parties, weddings, school functions and other events. Beyond that, he took part in the cheerleader workout program, early-morning weightlifting sessions three times a week.
Among his first assignments was a golf tournament where he was asked to visit each playing group. A problem — Buzz doesn’t jog. He only walks or sprints. So Hosford was sprinting hole to hole underneath the foam costume in the middle of the summer. When he doubled over in exhaustion, it wasn’t an act, only he had to try to pant silently. (Buzz doesn’t make sounds.)
Other assignments were less taxing. He said he once escorted a young girl to the Varsity on behalf of Make-A-Wish Foundation. He spoke with happy satisfaction about how he was able to keep the girl and her family laughing throughout. Hosford said he felt pressure to perform before suiting up, but it evaporated as he got dressed.
“It’s weird — we call it the Buzz magic,” he said. “It’s like this intangible thing that, when you put on the suit, you stop being nervous, you start being Buzz.”
He takes particular pride in being 2-0 at Sanford Stadium, pantomiming the Jackets to victory over archrival Georgia in 2014 and 2016.
“I was on the field when Harrison (Butker) made that ridiculous field-goal attempt,” Hosford said. “It was nuts.”
So why did it take Hosford eight years to earn his undergraduate degree? Hosford said that, out of the 24 semesters that have elapsed since he enrolled — including summer terms — he was working for 10 or 11 of them. He did so in part for professional development (co-ops and internships) and in part to earn money to cover his college costs, such as rent and fraternity dues.
Among other jobs, Hosford said he has been a sushi chef, a door-to-door salesman and a welder. During the fall and spring semesters when he was working, he was able to continue as Buzz if he registered his work as an internship or co-op to be considered a full-time student. More than once, Hosford wandered into a gray area regarding his status as a full-time student.
Hosford’s longevity as Buzz, as well as his time observing him as a child, enabled him to help maintain Buzz’s persona by teaching the next generation of Buzz performers how he should walk, run and interact. As cheerleading head coach Daniel Nester puts it, the aim is for a parent who met Buzz as a child to be able to introduce the same Buzz to his or her own children.
“He’s been able to keep that consistency in Buzz’s mannerisms and personality,” Nester said.
Hosford extended his time at Tech to the last. On Tuesday, he was moving out of the Theta Xi fraternity house. He’s now in the process of finding a software-development job. He has gained job experience. Moreover, he’s had his antenna up for the past six years.