The man behind the mask: Matt Biegun

Al Huffman

Matt Begiun has been the man behind Ozzie Osprey for ten years. Photo by Jenn Mello. Illustration by Alex Balosie.
Matt Biegun has been the man behind Ozzie Osprey for almost ten years.
Photo by Jenn Mello. Illustration by Alex Balosie.

Everyone at North Florida knows and loves the iconic Ozzie the Osprey, but one part of Ozzie that goes unnoticed is the story of the man inside the costume. Matt Biegun, the man behind the mask, sat down with us to discuss a little bit of Ozzie’s history, and a little bit about himself.

After graduating with a degree in broadcast communications from Mansfield University of Pennsylvania in 2002, Biegun did mascot work around Jacksonville before ever suiting up as the Osprey.

Biegun didn’t acquire the job by traditional means. In fact, getting the job ten years ago was unexpected, as he didn’t know there was even a job to apply for.

“So I was doing a mascot job for Adventure Landing,” Biegun said. “I created a character for them and we went to a few UNF games. [Those events] would’ve been almost ten years ago. At that point there was no Ozzie. I guess the marketing director had trouble keeping someone in the suit.”

When Beigun went to what would’ve been Harriet and Ozzie’s birthday (the anniversary of the mascots’ debut) and no Harriet and Ozzie showed up, the marketing director offered Biegun the job on the spot.

One factor that helped Biegun own the character was that the mascot didn’t really have an identity at all.

“If I walked around campus, a lot of people didn’t know who Ozzie was, so rebranding was definitely a big thing,” Biegun said. “Trying to make him a little bit cooler was one of the steps we took.”

Many universities, particularly smaller universities, will employ a student to be the mascot, and Biegun has to juggle his mascot duties with another full-time job and a family with three children. A feat not many can pull off. The hectic life isn’t easy for him, but Biegun is happy to do so. To him it’s nothing more than a labor of love.

According to Biegun, the hardest job he has is being the father of three children: a seven-year-old, a three-year-old, and an eight-month-old. Aside from his home life and mascot gig, Biegun works for Duval County Public Schools. He is the supervisor of video in the communications department. He does commercials, production “things” and voice overs (ironic, considering Ozzie himself is rather tight-beaked).

The way he puts it, it’s like he becomes a completely different person when he puts on the suit.

“When you come into the arena and you hear the fans, you hear the team warming up,” Biegun said. “Once the suit’s on, it kind of becomes that boost and it’s all over from there. I’ll go into kind of like this trance and I just become Ozzie. It’s kind of hard to explain.”

 

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