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Turning up after tuning up: Stephen Putnam is not your typical hype man

Stephen Putnam turns up at the Student Union. Photo by Morgan Purvis
Stephen Putnam turns up at the Student Union.
Photo by Morgan Purvis

America watched 18-year-old Stephen Putnam, a piano performance freshman, give fans at the UNF Arena a crash course on turning up during the Atlantic Sun Conference championship game March 8. The baritone horn player is a hype man whose spastic moves excite the crowd when DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s “Turn Down for What” plays over the Arena speakers. Since the game aired on ESPN2, Putnam has been featured on SportsCenter, Yahoo Sports and People Magazine.

Headlines describe his game day tradition as “dancing,” but Putnam told Spinnaker he has his doubts about the term. Putnam said he doesn’t know what it is or what to call it.

“I don’t dance,” he said, “but I guess you can call it that for lack of a better term.”

In an interview with Spinnaker TV, Men’s Basketball Head Coach Matthew Driscoll agreed with Putnam’s sentiment. He said he thinks Putnam’s moves are more “gyration” than dancing.

Putnam said he started playing the hype man at volleyball games as a dedicated fan, cheering loudly and interacting like a typical audience member does, until “somewhere along the way I just decided ‘I feel like going crazy.’” So he did.

Despite being nationally recognized for his moves, Putnam said he feels the pressure of the limelight. While he doesn’t feel like the Athletics Department’s hand hovers over him while pulling his strings, he does feel pressured sometimes to be “dancing man.”  When those times come, he said he simply doesn’t do it.

Putnam poses with his baritone horn. Photo by Morgan Purvis
Putnam poses with his baritone horn.
Photo by Morgan Purvis

Putnam said his mother taught him how to play piano at age six and learned how to read music soon after discovering his natural ability to learn it. This led him to learning how to play guitar, which sparked his interest in brass instruments by his senior year of high school.

“Piano is a great place to start, because you can see all the notes in front of you and you can transfer that to other instruments,” Putnam said.

Not only does Putnam play baritone horn in the Osprey Pep Band, but he also plays the French horn in the UNF Wind Symphony and concert band. He credits his musical talent to being passionate, a trait Putnam said he wants to teach others after he graduates. He told Spinnaker he plans on switching his major to music education this fall.

“I’m passionate about playing piano just as much as I am about sports, but I’m not going to sit down in a practice room and flail my arms around,” Putnam said. “I’m going to show it in a different way.”

With such dedication to his talents, it’s no wonder Putnam sometimes feels somewhat under-represented. Instead, he keeps his focus on his love of the game, worried only about overshadowing what he considered to be the real talent at the game — the team.

Though Putnam is humble about his popularity, Driscoll said people like Putnam represent UNF well by showing the world how interesting the university is.

“He’s a great musician at our great music school that no one knows about,” Driscoll said. “Now they do, and that’s what I think this championship is all about.”

Putnam is after all, just a fan. A big one, but just one.

In regards to his sudden fame, Putnam said he is “more excited about the [NCAA] tournament,” because, “anyone can be a fan of Osprey basketball.”

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