By Greg Russell
If the University of Memphis wins the NCAA national basketball championship this April,
Taylor Burnside wants a ring. Right along side Tyreke Evans, Robert Dozier, Antonio
“I sweat as much as those guys,” Burnside says. “I work as hard as they do.”
Taylor Burnside, at right, as a Blue Crew member before he became Pouncer.
Now if you have ever seen the U of M freshman, you wouldn’t think it possible. He
is a smaller framed guy, someone who might look more at home on a stage rather than
the basketball court.
But he does sweat. Buckets and buckets. Each time the Tigers take the court.
Burnside is the latest in a long string of Pouncer mascots that first began growling
at the U of M sometime in the ’60s.
Come game time, Burnside probably could qualify as the hardest working man in showbiz:
slip into that Pouncer outfit and run a few laps around the court and see if you don’t
“The Pouncer head is probably about 15 pounds; it sits a little bit weird on your
neck. It is a good workout and I am usually hungry afterwards — I sweat out a lot
of calories,” he says.
That's just what opposing teams need, another hungry Tiger.
Burnside, a theatre major in the U of M’s College of Communication and Fine Arts,
landed his latest role in December when former Pouncer, Terez Wilson, graduated. He
was thrown right into the den.
“A pompom friend, Molly Key, told me she thought I would be good at it (being Pouncer),"
says Burnside.“They told me they needed me to tryout at a game. So my audition was
in front of 18,000 fans at the Cincinnati game.”
But Burnside didn’t sweat the small stuff.
Taylor Burnside, in "character," at the Tigers' pep rally in Kansas City.
“I am a theatre major so I am used to being in front of people,” he says. “I have
been doing this for 10 years.”
He played the lead role in the U of M theatre department’s production of “Spitfire
Grill” earlier this year. At Collierville High, he played the Scarecrow in “The Wizard
of Oz” and will play one of the lead roles, Troy, in Disney's High School Musical
2, April 17-26, at the DeSoto Civic Center Theatre.
Needless to say, Burnside pounced on the opportunity and is now safely entrenched
as the Tigers’ mascot. So much for having to claw your way to the top.
“I try to make Pouncer into a character,” says the freshman. “There is a lot of improvising
that goes into the role.”
The best part of being Pouncer, he says, is “Getting to go to the tournament games.”
Burnside likes to point out that, much like Tyreke Evan’s first start at point guard,
Memphis has gone undefeated since he became Pouncer.
“I took over right after the Syracuse loss. We have now won 26 straight.”
All things considered, Burnside does deserve that ring if the Tigers are still dancing
at the end of the night on April 6.
Watch for Gaby Maxey’s “Earning their Stripes” article, which details the history
of Pouncer and the people behind the mask, in the Spring 2009 University of Memphis
Magazine that will be distributed in late April.