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FPU’s new hire talks time as Ole Miss mascot

  • Georgia native Candler Harris was recently hired as Franklin Pierce University's game operations and athletic marketing manager. Harris is no stranger to the game day experience as he was the first student to portray the University of Mississippi's mascot Rebel the Black Bear. (Nicholas Handy / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Nicholas Handy—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Georgia native Candler Harris was recently hired as Franklin Pierce University's game operations and athletic marketing manager. Harris is no stranger to the game day experience as he was the first student to portray the University of Mississippi's mascot Rebel the Black Bear. (Nicholas Handy / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Nicholas Handy—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Above: Candler Harris was the first student to portray a mascot at the University of Mississippi, taking the helm of Rebel the Black Bear in 2011. Below: Harris was announced last month as FPU’s first-ever game operations and athletic marketing manager.  Photo credit: Josh McCoy – Ole Miss Athletics Photographer



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, February 21, 2018

University of Mississippi alumnus Candler Harris has donned a uniform for three college football bowl games, two NCAA March Madness tournaments, and a College World Series baseball tournament. After the Ole Miss football team defeated the #1 ranked Alabama team in 2014, Harris even received a hug from popstar Katy Perry.

The Georgia native – who was announced last month as Franklin Pierce University’s first-ever game operations and athletic marketing manager – was on field for all of those games, but not as himself. Prior to every game, Harris would jump into the fuzzy exterior of Rebel the Black Bear, the university’s mascot.

“I definitely became the character. Candler is a very outgoing person but a lot of the things Rebel used to do, Candler would not have done,” said Harris, who graduated from Ole Miss in 2015. “When I was the mascot, I didn’t want people to see me in the costume, I wanted people to see Rebel.”

Harris was the university’s first student to portray their mascot, taking the helm of the newly created Rebel the Black Bear in 2011. The prior mascot, Colonel Reb, had been removed from the sidelines of athletic events at the university in 2003 after facing criticism for being racially insensitive.

Taking over as a new mascot gave Harris a lot of freedom to make Rebel his own. Harris said he spent a lot of time watching his favorite mascots and ultimately infused his own personality into the character.

“There might have been parts of Rebel that came from my personality, like I can be very sassy, and so Rebel had a little bit of a sass to him,” said Harris. “Rebel’s a silly little kid bear and he’s fun. He’s not a creepy guy in a suit.”

While there was a lot of fun that came from portraying the mascot, Harris said it was not without its challenges. In addition to spending hours training, strategizing his next appearance, and sweating in the suit, Harris also had to try to cement his legacy among a fan base that attached to a previous mascot.

“I had to win a fan base over because I was the new guy, I was the change,” said Harris, who said in the early days fans weren’t opposed to standing in front of him to tell him how horrible he was.

Harris’ time in the black bear costume has been monumental in his growth in the professional world. Had he not portrayed Rebel, he would have likely never met his mentor, Deputy Athletic Director Stephen Ponder, who ultimately helped Harris go out to Arizona where he would land his first job: director of marketing and digital media for the Arizona Christian University’s athletic department.

“Everything I have in the college athletics world is tied back to that damn bear,” said Harris. “The mascot experience is something I’m comfortable with putting on my resume because it was so much more than throwing on a costume, walking out there, and acting silly.”

As FPU’s game operations and athletic marketing manager, Harris is in charge of the experience for fans and players alike. Harris said it is his goal to make Franklin Pierce the best school in division II and the top college in the state.

“We’re building a cathedral; if I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t have come here,” said Harris.