You can’t miss them.
At every home football game (and a few away), the Spike Squad supports Georgia from Section 109, donning their famous spiked shoulder pads and painted all over.
Since its formation in 2010, the group has established itself as a staple to Saturdays in Athens, growing in number and popularity through the years.
But the Spike Squad’s impact goes further than bringing noise and excitement to Sanford Stadium. Its members have stories from across campus and beyond, and plenty of hard work behind the scenes to bring Georgia fans their energy.
Joining the ranks
Each year, the Spike Squad opens its doors to allow new recruits to join the organization. Recent UGA Grady College graduate Hunter Beasley knows the process well. He joined the club in 2017 and stayed with the group for several semesters.
He said each year there is a day to hang out with members and see what it’s like, followed by a round of interviews. The talks are no black tie affair, but focus on compatibility.
“During the interview process, you’d sit in with some of the current members and go over why you think you’re a good fit,” Beasley said. “Essentially you’ll get a lot of passionate UGA fans, whether that be someone who was passionate in high school spirit stuff or just some die-hard Georgia fans.”
Luke Gamble was in the former of those two groups. The former president of the Spike Squad won “Most School Spirit” as his senior superlative in high school, forming a student section for the basketball team. He noticed the group on Twitter, applied and got in.
There is a “sort-of” standard that applicants must meet. Beasley said he was asked to name all of the SEC schools, which is Georgia’s second-most popular sport (gymnastics) and to sing the first few lines to Gaines W. Walter’s 1931 song “Hail to Georgia,” among others.
He answered well enough to make the cut.
“You’ll never forget your first” might be an old adage, but neither member forgot their initial time putting on the pads. Beasley’s first game was an Appalachian State-Georgia matchup – a game between the two universities he considered during his college search.
“I remember those few days leading up to the game trying on paint because I hadn’t committed to what I was going to do,” he said. “Seeing that first game, that was the first legit college football game I had ever been to. There was no way to beat it – you’re there at the edge of the action – it was awesome.”
The Georgia-Alabama game at Sanford Stadium in 2015 was Gamble’s first big moment with the squad. After the Crimson Tide blocked a punt in the first half, he went viral.
“I got a text at halftime ‘Bro, you’re trending on Twitter,’” Gamble said. “Someone sent me a screenshot of it, when you go to the trending page, see Alabama at UGA, and it was literally on the header, a picture of me doing the ‘surrender cobra.’ I was drenched.
“It wasn’t fun because Georgia got their ass kicked, but it was a crazy wow moment.”
A real commitment
They all have pads and spikes, but each member of the Spike Squad brings something special to the field. Each member comes up with their own plan, a person or character to inspire their paint that week.
And there have been plenty of characters: Little Red Riding Hood, David Bowie, Captain Underpants, Harley Quinn and more. Beasley suited up as WWE Superstar The Ultimate Warrior, donning shades and a blonde wig most of the time. In 2019, he tried Hulk Hogan. Gamble, who also knew a bit about the WWE, painted himself as Sting.
A big challenge is finding the proper medium.
“Trying to find the kind of paint I wanted to use that wasn’t going to rub off halfway through the game and was easy to put on was an experience,” Beasley said.
Some people go heavy on paint, others use props. It’s really up to each individual to decide how creative or elaborate they look.
In terms of painting one’s face, everyone has their own method.. Most people won’t start painting until the 60 minute clock begins before the game, and after the game can be just as tricky.
“It definitely depends,” Beasley said. “Take Kentucky in 2019, when it was pouring down rain – it made cleanup a little easier. (For others) I will not describe the amount of paint I had to scrape off in the shower to you. The clean up is definitely harder, especially after standing in the sun or rain for three hours screaming your lungs out.”
The cleanup is worth it though. There’s a sense of gratification for putting on the pads and cheering on the Dawgs.
“I think that being able to be a face for a fan base and bringing that passion is really rewarding for an average student,” said Beasley. “It shows you that anyone can be a larger than life character as long as you put your mind to it.”
Being larger than life comes with its costs. One of them is time.
“The full experience of being down there for game day is very different from your typical fan life,” Beasley said. “The biggest thing I can say is Spike Squad gets there for the games 3-4 hours before the gates open, depending on the opponent.”
While they show up early, it is during these moments that Spike Squad members grow closer together. Both Beasley and Gamble spoke about the community and camaraderie that is formed by the members that show up early and show out. With a large group, not everyone is close, but they get closer as they share time together. Gamble said he found future roommates, while others found friends and even future spouses.
They’d talk, watch other college games on their phones and wait until 90 minutes before kickoff.
When the gates open, it’s all hands on deck.
“Those seats that Spike Squad gets right there at the front, those aren’t reserved by the University,” Beasley said. “Once the gates open it’s a sprint – a safe sprint – down to the front row for a few people to grab it while the others file in.”
That goes for home games and for the neutral site matchups for the Bulldogs where members receive student tickets. It proved more difficult when the group traveled to Indianapolis for the CFB National Championship Game. Beasley said it was harder for the group to sit together, but they did the best they could.
A mark on the program
There’s a link between the Squad and the Bulldogs’ now-famous Savage Pads.
Coach Aaron Feld, now with the University of Oregon, reached out to the Spike Squad during Gamble’s time as a student. He had a plan.
“He came up with the idea, didn’t even tell Coach (Mel) Tucker about it,” Gamble said. “He was just like ‘I want you guys to paint up some shoulder pads for us like you guys do, bring them to me, and we’ll use them.’”
The team gave the Squad a couple pairs of pads to paint, and Gamble went to work.
“I painted up three sets of shoulder pads in the parking garage in East Campus and I took them to him.”
Two of the sets were for practice, the other was for games.
“I dropped them off with Coach Feld and he said, ‘I’m going to take these to Coach Tucker’s office right now,’” Gamble said. “He liked them, and I guess the rest is history.”
While the pads for practice are no longer in use, the golden spikes can still be seen on the sidelines, first created by the Spike Squad.
A presence outside of athletics
The Spike Squad has made itself known outside of campus.
During Gamble’s tenure, SEC Network reached out to the group and asked for someone to join SEC Nation on a particular Saturday. There was yet to be a real connection between the network and the squad, although it had been featured in some programming in photographs.
Gamble ended up being chosen to join the kickoff show where he debated Paul Finebalm in a “Paul versus Y’all” segment. He got to answer questions and get a taste of what he does for a living now: anchor.
“They basically stacked the odds to where Paul was going to win the argument, which was fine, it wasn’t me trying to win, it was a fun thing,” Gamble said. “It was just funny because the last question was about which school had the best home field advantage… At the end of the segment he pushed me out of the chair I was sitting in and off the stage and he stood up in his chair, it was neat.”
Since then, the network and its ESPN family showcase the squad in commercials and like to play host to the group.
But television is only one way the Spike Squad has made an impact. The organization has done its fair share of philanthropy too.
In this season’s game against Auburn, the group hosted individuals from Extra Special People, a group that gives transformative experiences for people with disabilities and their families. It’s hosting a pink-out for this week’s matchup against Vanderbilt. In 2019, the group gave a special gift. During the pink out against Arkansas State, the group gave head coach Blake Anderson a pair of pink pads in honor of his late wife.
Through the years, Spike Squad has partnered with UGA Miracle, Share The Magic, Athens Food Bank and others.
“It does a good job of supporting the community,” Beasley said. “You don’t want to have people look at you like ‘They’re just a bunch of rambunctious college students.’ We are, but there’s a deeper side to it.”
“It’s not just a football thing”
They’re known for their attendance on Saturdays, but the group makes its rounds across campus.
A couple rows up the stands on the home side bench are where they can be seen at Stegeman Coliseum. At softball games, they’re sitting on the first base side. In the past several years, the group has expanded its efforts to hit all of the Athens athletic avenues.
“It’s not just a football thing; they try to get to as many sports as they can,” Beasley said. “(In the interviews, the squad is) trying to see if you’re not just in it for football. You’d be surprised at some people, that’s what they’re in it for.”
For Beasley, he still recounts his first time cheering on another “spike” squad: the UGA volleyball team.
“I remember my first football game and my first non-football game,” he said. “But I don’t remember which was first. It was a volleyball game – I believe this was when volleyball was still played at Ramsey – and we painted up and it was a lot of fun.”
No matter the sport, the group has fun. They bring energy and excitement to the fanbase.
It sets trends and helps people out. Beasley thinks it’ll live on for a while.
“I would say it’s going to be hard to kill it,” Beasley said. “It’s definitely still growing. It’s way more recognizable and mainstream with the fan base since I started. I think a lot of fans want to see it continue. As long as there is a group of students that come in each year that want to have a unique game day experience and show their passion for UGA sports like no other person, there’s always going to be a form of the organization at the University.”
And why wouldn’t students want the experiences? For Beasley, his experience has brought little memories he can look back on.
“There are these moments whether you’re taking a picture with a little kid, saying ‘Go Dawgs’ to a random fan or helping out a cause that’s a little bigger than your everyday fandom activities, that it becomes rewarding.”