Atlanta – Hunter Street’s interest in sports keeps spiking upward, as he helps lead the University of Georgia student Spike Squad in rooting on the Bulldogs’ quest to repeat as national football champions.
Zirconia native Street went in person to the amazing semifinal, comeback victory over Ohio State on New Year’s Eve in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta. He sat in the corner of an end zone over a player’s tunnel. The winning touchdown pass in the final minute came right toward him.
The game ended at the stroke of midnight ushering in the new year, as OSU’s 50-yard field goal try veered wide. Street wished for a blocked kick. “I didn’t expect him to shank it like that. I see the ball (very) wide left. We go crazy!,” Street recalled. The New Year’s timing made it a “perfect ending.”
ESPN showed super fan Street’s jubilant reaction after Georgia’s winning score, also briefly once in the first half, and grinning after the triumph. The dramatic win felt “very draining, but well worth it.”
Street is among six Spike Squad members in costume at the game. Seven members reserved tickets for the national championship game on Jan. 9 in Los Angeles. Georgia faces 13-point underdog TCU, which upset Michigan. Street will fly in a jet for the first time.
Playoff ticket prices are amazingly discounted for Georgia Bulldog students. “Peach Bowl costs $85 through the school. That’s a steal to watch Georgia win in (nearby) Atlanta in the semis,” Street said. “The Natty this year is free, because Taco Bell has the Live Mas Student Section and gives out a number of free tickets to both teams.”
Last year, his father John Street also attended when Georgia beat Michigan and then conquered frequent champ Alabama for the national title. Hunter’s mother Joan joined them at the title game.
‘Big ‘Ole Family’
North Henderson alumnus Street is in his second year as one of the most active Spike Squad members. He is the group’s secretary for 2022-23, and one of three members who write a monthly newsletter. He calls Spike Squad a “big ‘ole family” of friends. He is the only participant from North Carolina.
Street is on track to graduate in May of 2024 with a B.S. in statistics, and a minor in sports management which includes analytics, ethics and marketing. He plans to remain in Spike Squad while pursuing a master’s degree. His dream job is to work for the Atlanta Braves, evaluating players statistically by utilizing analytics. His fallback plans include a corporate career, or to teach math and coach baseball.
The Spike Squad began in 2010. Membership rose from 35 last season to nearly 50, with 23 first-year members. “The atmosphere is amazing,” Street said. “Our ‘newbies’ have been ‘bringing the heat.’ They’re invested. I’ve had so much fun getting to know everyone.”
“Spike Squad” refers to their spiked red shoulder pads. Bulldog defensive players get to briefly wear a decorative pair of spiked golden “Savage Pads,” when back on sidelines after getting the ball on a turnover. Street called it “cool they got that turnover trophy from us.”
The hard plastic spikes are painted silver. For a contrast, body paint is normally black. Black paint and red pads reflect Georgia’s main colors. Street’s paint on his bare torso and arms “almost all came off during the rain in the second half“ of the win over Tennessee Vols. He paints himself in merely five minutes.
Street called that Vols game the “craziest I’ve ever been too. Loudest for sure. When the rain came, it made it so much fun.” The game on Saturday was next-loudest, even more than the finals a year ago.
Street is superstitious. He wore his lucky underwear to all but two games in 2021 and 2022. The Bulldogs struggled in both exceptions. After that, the lucky undies became a tradition.
Most interesting is that each Spike Squad member portrays an action hero or other character. This adds to the festivities. Street wears an authentic mail delivery outfit that he bought. He honors “The Mailman,” who is reliable Bulldog quarterback Stetson F. Bennett IV.
Bennett earned the nickname since the overlooked, short senior steadily “delivers” victories. “Stetson has been the best player in college football,” Street said. “The guy keeps getting doubted, yet keeps performing at such a high level in the best conference.”
After falling behind 21-7 in the second quarter, Bennett pounded his chest over his heart to indicate the team can keep fighting with heart. His team scored the next two touchdowns to tie the game. They trailed 28-24 at halftime. Georgia set a record in the decade of the playoff system, by overcoming a deficit as large as two TDs entering the final quarter. OSU led by two scores much of the way.
Bennett threw three TD passes and for nearly 400 yards. He ran for a TD. He outdid OSU’s hyped C.J. Stroud in the end. Boosting fans midway into the final quarter, The Mailman delivered a bomb to Arian Smith for a 76-yard score. Bennett threw a two-point pass to cut the OSU lead to 38-35.
“That score was right in front of us,” Street said. “We went crazy!” On its prior drive, UGA settled for a field goal after reaching the three-yard line. “We blew it. We then needed two stops, and two scores. We got a (defensive) stop,” then the TD. OSU countered with a mere field goal, to lead by six with 2:36 remaining.
“Time to go!,” Street shouted at the time. His hero Bennett magnificently led one last Bulldog scoring drive. His long completion got UGA close. He fired a 10-yard scoring pass to Adonai Mitchell with 54 seconds left. The extra point put Georgia up by 42-41 — the final score. Street said that “after that frickin’ touchdown, I was bawling with emotion.”
Elvis in Building
Other Squad characters include Batman, Wonder Woman, Elvis Presley, King Midas, wrestler Hulk Hogan, the It film’s killer clown Penny Wise, a Viking lady warrior, pirate, fireman and court jester.
Mad Hatter Ethan Marcum cut off the head of a doll of Buckeye nut mascot Brutus, and bit it during the game. Street teases Buckeye fans about how “your mascot’s literally a nut!”
Garrett Cribbs is Tom Hank’s caveman-like Cast Away film character isolated on an island. Cribbs is “the funniest dude I’ve met” with quips and antics, Street said. “I’m definitely getting funnier. But by no means am I top five. We have some pretty funny people, who are hard to top.”
Burly Squad Co-President Caleb Edwards is the Winter Soldier, a Captain America character. He carries a shield and Thor’s hammer — both with an iron-on “G” on them for their school Georgia. Co-Pres. Jenny Swope is Little Red Riding Hood. Another board member, Sarah Harrison, portrays Lightning McQueen from the Cars animated films.
Tall Nathaniel Lemons dons a platinum blonde wig, as wrestler Rick Flair. He often sits next to Street. Their friend Rachel Henderson portrays hard-edged heroine Harley Quinn. Haynes Baker of Charlotte portrays the Queen of Hearts.
No males dress in drag, Street noted. “Gotta keep it family-friendly for the kids.” G-rated chants include “Sic ’em!,” and “Woof, woof, woof!” The most risqué chant was “…to hell with OSU!” to close Georgia’s school song. Otherwise, “We do not cuss in pads, nor drink alcohol” or gesture obscenely, Street said. “We are an official student organization. We represent UGA with class.”
It is that imperative Spike Squad members “remain in good academic standing,” memorize the “Hail to Georgia” song, and attend at least seven Bulldog sporting events per semester while in costume. Street attended ten UGA sports last fall. Dues cover costs of shoulder pads and paint.
Spike Squad rituals include shaking hands after first downs on offense, and shaking three pointed fingers when foes face third down. Spike Squad members are not on their cell phones much during games, unless to keep up a “V-log.” Street said that even during an extended timeout, he briefly downshifts energy to better pace his endurance. “We’re always hyped up,” he said. “Gotta stay hydrated and rest!”
How does his voice last? “I’ve been screaming at games since middle school. I’ve built up my voice,” he explained. “I don’t lose my voice. It just goes in and out. I learned to chug a lot of water during timeouts.”
Spike Squad members arrive at big games hours ahead. Outside gates, they throw a football around or chat. Street said that they talk about “anything — sports, music, whatever is going on in the world. Even weird animals we could have as pets – 100 duck-size elephants or 10 elephant-size ducks.”
Street said, “We learn about each other, and share stories. We all have widely different personalities and interests. But we have one thing in common, and that’s we love Georgia football.”