Cody Lopez was just like any other college kid. He spent his time as a R.A. keeping freshman alive in the dorms, attending club meetings and getting excited for Friday night dates. However, he had a secret—a huge, feathered, maroon and orange secret.
He was the HokieBird… and he couldn’t tell a single soul. Keeping the masquerade of living a double life for four years wasn’t easy. He’s no Hannah Montana— but Cody found a way to keep his cover.
“People started to ask why are you on the field, I see you down there what are you doing, or why did you go to Daytona with the cheer team? Early on I kind of developed a story, I just didn’t use it as much. I told everyone that I was an intern in the Sports Marketing and Athletics department,” said Cody.
His story was clever, and for the most part it stuck. However, it was hard lying to loved ones and friends. However, Cody considers the white lies a small price to pay for his incredible experience.
“When I was an R.A., residents would see me come back super sweaty and I would just tell them I went to the gym. If they knew me well enough, they’d obviously know that wasn’t true. I never go to the gym!” he exclaimed. Cody set his mind on becoming the Hokie Bird at his first football game during his freshman year of college.
“There was nobody else on the field. There were people lining the sidelines, the stadium was full, but the Hokie Bird was just on the field in an orange effect shirt just goofing off, cartwheeling and rolling around in the middle of the football field. I was like that would be the coolest thing— He can just goof off and enjoy himself in front of 60,000 people and it’s all in good fun.” said Cody. Cody decided that one way or another he was going to become the Hokie Bird. In that moment, he whipped out his IPod Touch and took a picture to document the moment.
“I was like, you know what, I would love to do that. I posted a picture of the HokieBird in September of 2012 saying ‘that’s gonna be me someday’ as the caption. Whopping 12 likes. Crushed it,” said Cody.
The process of becoming the HokieBird wasn’t an easy one. If Cody’s heart and soul hadn’t been set on being the mascot, it would’ve been easy to give up. The first step to becoming the HokieBird was figuring out who to get in contact with to apply.
“I pretty much asked every single person I could find in athletics. I assumed it was athletics run, so I was like, how do I do this. Either they didn’t respond at all or they didn’t know—at least they told me that they didn’t know,” Cody explained. After a long point of getting nowhere, Cody was frustrated. It wasn’t until he began talking to a cute girl that things started to look up for his HokieBird career.
“I wanted to ask her on a date, and I wanted it to be this really big elaborate thing. I messaged the HokieBird on Twitter. I tweeted at him and said, can you follow me I want to DM you about something. My plan was to have him escort her to our date,” Cody explained, “He did it, and it was really cool. Then maybe a week after that, I messaged him and was like, ‘hey so I’ve been trying to figure this out for a really long time, can you help?’” The Hokie Bird hesitantly sent Cody an email. Cody finally had the “In” into the HokieBird program.
The next few months were a whirlwind. Cody went through various tryouts, which he can’t disclose—it is a very secretive process. The university narrowed 60 applicants to 30. In the end, Cody was competing against three other people for the two HokieBird spots.
“If it’s something that you really want to do, be persistent,” Cody advised, “Be positive and adamant about what you want to do.”
Cody found that the most rewarding factor about being the HokieBird was seeing the impact that he made in the lives of others. He appreciated the moments that he experienced being the face of the university in times of joy and sorrow. Attending the April 16th memorial service was one of the most poignant moments in his HokieBird career.
“One year I decided that I was going to buy flowers, go as the HokieBird and put flowers on the headstones,” Cody explained, “Then this one older lady, I have no idea what her connection was, if she was from the area or if she was personally affected, I don’t know, but she made it all the way through and she was balling. Just absolutely, super hard sniffling, crazy crying and she walked up and she just wrapped me in this huge hug and squeezed me super tight. All she said was, ‘I can’t explain to you how much it means to me that you came here for this night. Thank you.’” Cody paused, remembering the significance of the moment.
“I’m inside the suit crying. I feel like I was able to see the rawest emotion of a person. People weren’t afraid to show that to me, because I was the mascot— If I had been a normal person, they wouldn’t just run up and hug me for no reason,” Cody explained.
Moments like those are what makes being the HokieBird worth it. Moments like those are the reason that the HokieBird stands inside a costume in a Florida heat wave at the Miami football game, or the reason why the HokieBird fibs to friends and family about being busy. For Cody, everything was worth it, if he could make a difference in at least one person’s life.
“I got to see when people were happy and excited, they don’t hold that back around you. I’ve seen so many people cry tears of happiness now, just because I showed up somewhere and that’s just such a touching thing,” Cody explained, “It just speaks to me about what it truly means to be a Virginia Tech student, alum, faculty member, or fan. I wouldn’t have given it up for anything and I’m so glad that I got to do it.”
Cody is a 2016 Virginia Tech graduate.
*Photo Credits: The Blacksburg Partnership does not own these photos. They are provided courtesy of Cody Lopez. Bryson Hicks Photography took the second to last photo. The graduation photos were taken by Lauren Rakes.