It was almost a given that Thomas Lowry would follow in his father’s footsteps to Clemson University.
As it turned out, Thomas followed in Martin Lowry’s paw prints.
Like his father before him, Thomas is a Tiger, and it’s not just because he goes to Clemson. He is literally a Tiger -- Panthera tigris uniformis in approximate Latin.
Beginning in the fall, with his sophomore year, Thomas, an athlete of legend at Laurens Academy, will don the uniform of the Clemson mascot, dance around, rabble-rouse, pose for pictures and perform a pushup for every Clemson point – and the Tigers quite often score a lot of them – at Death Valley and elsewhere.
Being the Tiger – and not just a Tiger – is a rigorous pastime. Martin, now a Laurens businessman and city councilor, was The Tiger from 1986-88.
Clemson’s corps of Tiger mascots – it’s far too demanding a job for just one – has some similarity to the Knights of the Round Table, only in funny costumes. They represent the realm. They make promotional appearances at everything from a wedding in Charlotte, N.C., to an oyster roast in Laurens. They’re in parades, presentations, other sporting events, christenings, enactments, reenactments, ceremonies and celebrations.
In the Palmetto State – and often in tandem with the University of South Carolina’s Cocky – the Tigers are at least as in demand … as cover bands.
Undoubtedly, oodles try out from the boisterous Clemson student body. Outside the inner sanctum of judges, no one knows how many. Each candidate is interviewed and tested separately, one at a time in front of a judges’ panel of five. Lesser candidates, perhaps in both skills and stature, become “half Tigers,” which roughly makes them Cubs.
Thomas, like Martin before him, is a full-grown Tiger. He won’t perform at every game, but he is part of the pride, both figuratively because Clemson loves its football and literally because that’s what a group of tigers is called. Oh, wait. Upon further internet review, real tigers are solitary animals. Lions roam in prides. Tigers, when they gather, are called “streaks.”
That fits Thomas Lowry, too.
A record-setting quarterback at Laurens Academy, Thomas led the Crusaders to the S.C. Independent School Association’s state semifinals in 2020. Eight-man football is a game that, in standard practice, mirrors what Presbyterian College tried to play last fall during the brief, 2-9 reign of radical head coach Kevin Kelley. In 8-man football, a team can win that way.
As a senior, Thomas completed 195 of 310 passes for 2,679 yards, throwing 47 touchdown passes and only 6 interceptions. He rushed for 1,578 yards in 151 carries, scoring 19 times.
When Thomas tried out, the panel put him in a uniform and set him loose in the crowd of a baseball game, where they watched him mingle, cheer, jump around and pose for selfies. For good measure, he did 70 pushups.
Now Thomas is going to be a celebrity again, though not as himself. When he dons the Tiger suit, he’ll be personally incognito.
“They want us to have our own personalities,” he said. “They don’t want the fans to know whose personality it is.”
Thomas could be a superhero if he had super powers and fought evil-doers. He can’t divulge his true identity. He can’t have photos taken without his Tiger head on.
Martin, once a record-setting pusher of ups in his own right, didn’t push his son to don the fluffy orange, but Thomas knew the history.
“When I came to Clemson, I had an idea I wanted to be the Tiger,” Thomas said. “I wanted to get involved, and it was the perfect way for me. I needed more stuff to do. I really wanted to travel to some away games. If I hadn’t tried out, I would’ve looked back and wished I had.”
Be sure to tune in next week, fans. Watch The Tiger bring an unruly board of Deacons to their knees in Winston-Salem. Same Tiger time. Same Tiger station.