Come early, stay loud, bleed burnt orange: The story of Longhorn Hellraisers

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Photo Credit: Eddie Gaspar

Covered in paint and sweat, the Longhorn Hellraisers stand in the front row at the student section every game to cheer Texas on. They arrive when the gates open and stay until well after the countdown clock buzzes. This is what it means to be a Hellraiser. Avery Matheson, a Speech-language pathology sophomore and Hellraiser treasurer said this is the impression made by her organization every fall football season. 

“We go to one of the most amazing universities in the world,” Matheson said. “There’s pride in that. Our organization centers around how lucky we are to have this experience. (Supporting UT Athletics) is the best way we can show our gratitude, spirit and school pride.”

The Longhorn Hellraisers began painting their faces and ferociously cheering in the stands in 1988, when two UT students noticed school spirit was at an “all-time low” after the UT football team finished their season 4–7. These students made it their mission to encourage the team’s fan base and give UT football the support they believe they deserved.

“Anybody who wants to be a Hellraiser should be a Hellraiser,” Matheson said. “You’ve proven yourself good enough to be at this university. Therefore, you’re good enough to be one of us.”

Matheson said she discovered the organization her freshman year when she saw a group of students playing “water-pong” — beer pong, but with water in solo cups — on Speedway. It was the Hellraisers, who she said she thought was a boys club for sports fans only. However, when she approached them and said she had never attended a UT Athletics event, they welcomed her with open arms. PACE freshman Amber Filia said this
attitude makes her feel at home even though she is considered a rookie.

“I’m an awkward and shy person, and Hellraisers is helping me break out of that shell,” Filio said. “So far, I think it’s going pretty great.”

Over the years, Matheson said the organization has coined multiple traditions, most of which are on display at fall football games. 

For a typical home game, Matheson said the Hellraisers’ board members set up their tailgate as early as possible. 

“One day, we started at 11 a.m. for a 7 p.m. game,” Matheson said. “It’s over a 12-hour day easily every single time.”

After the Hellraisers tailgate, members paint their faces white and orange, called “painting up.” Then, the Hellraisers president John Craig randomly selects two members based on their spirit and commitment to the organization to be the Horns at the football game. The Horns stand on either side of the five privileged members with “TEXAS” letters painted across their chests. This, Matheson said, gives “normal members” a chance to talk to the elite lettermen, including Craig, who has worn the “S” proudly since it was passed down to him in 2017.

But before painting their bodies to spell “TEXAS” comes the “Running of the Hill.” After a march through the University Co-op and down Guadalupe Street, the group turns down 21st Street for a hype-building tradition. 

“We run down the hill yelling and chanting, and we don’t stop until we hit the gate,” biomedical engineering senior Craig said. 

The Hellraisers have long stood out among the crowd at Texas sporting events because of their members covered in face paint. They bear extreme heat, wind chills, downpours and even long drives to exhibit their dedication to the Longhorns, Craig said. 

From meetings on Mondays to resting up on Sundays, Matheson said each member is a Hellraiser, all day, every day.

“No matter where you are, if 10 people in Hellraisers are together, when the clock strikes midnight, you’re singing the ‘Eyes of Texas,’” Matheson said. “I was at the movies once, and it struck midnight. There were 10 of us, so it was time. ‘The Eyes’ were a go.”