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Our Neighbor Knightro

Featured Photo from Our Neighbor Knightro

After spending four years as the anonymous man behind the armor, Lake Mary’s Eric Topolewski reveals himself as UCF mascot Knightro as he prepares to go pro

The secret is out: Seminole High grad Eric Topolewski has been entertaining fans across the country as Knightro, the University of Central Florida mascot, for the past four years. His parents, Greg and Melanie Topolewski, knew his top-secret identity, as did his girlfriend, fellow UCF student Jessica Bailey, but not too many others did... until now.

As Eric prepared to graduate from UCF and turn the costume over to a new Knightro, he recently revealed his identity – per tradition – to a grateful student body. After the big reveal, Eric posted online, “Now that the cat is out of the bag, prepare for more sappy posts because this golden goofball means the world to me.”

The Mascot Mantra: Shhhh!
To be Knightro for UCF essentially requires living a double life.

Most people knew Eric as a mild-mannered UCF history major. Students would pass him in the halls and have no idea that he was Knightro, the costumed character throwing rubber ducks to them and their friends at UCF’s annual Spirit Splash in the campus Reflecting Pond days before, for example.

“That would happen all the time,” Eric says.

He would pass by folks he’d just interacted with as Knightro, but at that moment he was Eric, just another UCF Knight who they may or may not know.

Like any good double agent, there are certain questions Eric won’t answer.

On the rare occasion when Eric could not attend a UCF event himself, he refuses to say who else might have donned Knightro’s costume in his stead. He won’t even reveal how many backup Knightros there may or may not be. When asked if the costume goes home with him after an event, Eric just shrugs and says, “Knightro lives on campus.”

Tryout Triumph
He does discuss, however, the audition process for the job. It’s a fond memory for Eric, who says his experience as Knightro changed him forever and brought immeasurable positivity to his life.

Eric, who has always been active in theater and sports, was the mascot at Seminole High School, Sammy Seminole, during his senior year. He has also performed as a Disney cast member. But despite all his experience, he was nervous at the Knightro audition.

“It was intimidating, as a performer and a human,” Eric says. “I feel like we tend to compare ourselves to other people, but you’ve just got to do your best.”

Mascots don’t talk, so the audition involved many non-verbal exercises to show performers’ body language, facial expressions, and hand motions. Michael Callahan, UCF’s mascot head coach (and a former Knightro, himself) gave each performer a prop with instructions to make it fun and engaging, like using a water gun as a telephone. Physical capabilities such as dancing were considered, and those auditioning had to be willing to be on their feet in hot weather for long periods of time, in costume.

For Eric, getting the call that he was Knightro – as a freshman, no less – meant one thing: “I would get to have fun for the next four years of my college career,” he says.

As he adapted to being Knightro, maneuvering the costume’s large head and feet took a bit of adjustment. But Eric mastered it, knowing that Knightro had a responsibility to the school.

“Even when we are losing, you still do your part for the team and cheer on your Knights, no matter what,” Eric says. “We had to do our best to get those people as ramped up and rowdy as we could.”

Eric has traveled extensively with UCF teams as Knightro, including trips to New York City. He has participated in Knight-Thon, a dance marathon fundraiser for Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. He’s seen the effect Knightro can have by engaging and bringing joy to others.

“The biggest thing was the tiny moments between Knightro and a fan, or a baby, or a dog,” says Eric. “Those moments have changed people’s lives and, in turn, changed mine.”

Eric’s time as Knightro and at UCF may be over, but his days as a mascot continue. He’s landed a year-long mascot internship with the Indianapolis Colts, and his goal is to become a mascot for a professional sports team. 

Mascots have ideal careers, Eric says. “You get to take characters people love and be part of their lives.”

Keeping their true identities secret, like Eric did with Knightro, just preserves the magic. 

Mascot Memories
These are some of Eric’s favorite moments during his time as Knightro...

• The long, crazy ride that was the UCF football team’s 2017 season, when, despite having an undefeated record, UCF was denied a chance to compete for college football’s national championship. Based on the strength of its play, the team declared itself a National Champion, which brought together the city of Orlando to celebrate, with Knightro as a guest of honor. The Knights are now in the NCAA record book as co-national champions with Alabama.

• While strolling around campus, Knightro approached a student who looked upset. “I pointed at him and made a frowny face,” Eric recalls. The student talked, and Knightro listened. “He had more than a college student should have on his plate, but he seemed lighter, lifted, after the session.” Knightro even let the student hold his sword, earning a smile.

• During a graduation bash at a UCF satellite campus, Knightro met a graduate who had three children – girls who couldn’t wait to play UCF volleyball when they grew up – and a little boy playing with a toy dinosaur. “He would high-five me, and I’d pretend to fall over, make a big deal about it,” says Eric. “I never heard a little boy laugh and giggle so much.” The mom hugged Knightro afterward, with tears in her eyes.

• “I was on national TV as Knightro,” says Eric about his appearance on ESPN College GameDay. Legendary sportscaster Lee Corso also donned the complete Knightro suit before the game. “It was one of the most electric atmospheres.”

• At a 2017 game against rival University of South Florida at home, Knightro witnessed UCF’s Mike Hughes – now a cornerback for the Minnesota Vikings – make a full-field return for a touchdown in the closing minutes of the game. “He was 10 yards away from me,” says Eric. “Knightro ran down the bench, high-fiving players – the fans went nuts.”

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