Epilogue: Milton Llinas danced his way into hearts as USF’s ‘Rocky’

The USF graduate spent three years as the beloved Bulls mascot
Milton Llinas spent three years performing as the Rocky D Bull mascot at USF. A handful of students take turns in the mascot uniform each year. (Photo provided by Megan MacLeod)
Milton Llinas spent three years performing as the Rocky D Bull mascot at USF. A handful of students take turns in the mascot uniform each year. (Photo provided by Megan MacLeod)
Published Oct. 16, 2018

BRANDON — Gusto is a prerequisite for those aspiring to wear USF's most conspicuous costume.

Those who slip into the Rocky D Bull outfit must show they can slip out of self-consciousness. Mascot mettle is gauged at a formal tryout in a Selmon Athletics Center conference room, where applicants are asked to juke, prance and gyrate to the USF Fight Song and one or two current pop hits.

"The whole point of it is, we want them to be larger than life," said Megan MacLeod, director of marketing for USF Athletics.

To this day, no one has nailed his audition with the zeal of Milton Llinas. Just as Miley Cyrus' Wrecking Ball segued from the keyboard-tinged moderate tempo of its opening verse to the bombastic chorus, Llinas darted toward a folding chair and propelled his slender swimmer's frame into it.

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Laura Wilhelm and Eric Dominguez, both Rocky alumni, nodded at each other in approval.

"I mean, he just full Supermanned into it," Wilhelm said. "I looked over at Eric and said, 'Yep, that'll do. He's in. We're ready.'"

For the next three years, Llinas seemingly spent as much time inside the bovine getup as he did out of it. The Riverview High alumnus (and former Sharks swim-team captain) with dreams of a legal career seemed happiest when entertaining and exhorting USF's fan base at sporting events and myriad other functions.

"I think he would've lived in that suit," Wilhelm said.

He'll rest forever in a variation of it.

On Saturday, Llinas was buried in a dark-green USF polo and gray Rocky winter cap, protruding horns and all. Shortly after graduating with his political science degree last December, he was diagnosed with leukemia, and succumbed to complications from the illness at Moffitt Cancer Center on Oct. 11.

A native Colombian reared in east Hillsborough County, he was 23.

"Every time he walked in the room, he'd kind of ignite it," said Mike Bryk, one of Llinas' Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity brothers.

Bryk was among a standing-room-only throng shoehorned into Hillsboro Memorial Funeral Home for Saturday's celebration-of-life service.

A procession of peers, fraternity brothers and administrators — including USF president Dr. Judy Genshaft — offered hugs and condolences to Llinas' parents, siblings and his girlfriend, Graysen Harrell.

"He told me many times he was the happiest person at USF," Llinas' dad, also named Milton, told the audience in mildly clipped English.

"He was my superhero."

Prior to the service, Wilhelm and roughly a half-dozen other current and former Rockys formed a somber semi-circle in the lobby. Because the mascot receives around 300 appearance requests annually, normally six to 10 students are selected each year to take turns in the costume, earning a degree of scholarship money based on their length of tenure.

Between sniffles, this group shared memories of its indefatigable chum, whose alter egos spanned the costumed gamut.

Llinas also worked nearly two years as Pete the Pelican, mascot for the Tampa Bay Rowdies; and even once took a gig as Spiderman for a Pinellas-based company.

"In person, he was outgoing, but he had kind of more a reserved personality," said Becca Kepto, marketing manager for the Edwards Group, which formerly owned the Rowdies.

"But he put on the (pelican) suit and changed into a different character. He was good interacting with adults, but he really set himself apart from otherperformers by the way he danced. He was really good with kids."

When not dancing, he was deliberating.

Llinas served as Chief Justice of the USF Supreme Court, and logged time as a senator in student government before that. Active in his social fraternity, he also was a member of USF's law fraternity (Phi Alpha Delta).

Bryk recalled a brother who devoured Flamin' Hot Cheetos and responsibly partook of a Heineken from time to time. More often than not, he served as designated driver at social functions. A quick text is all it took; Llinas would arrive promptly in his white Kia, accessorized with LED green-and-gold under lights.

"He never wanted anyone to drive drunk," Bryk said. "He was like an Energizer bunny. You could never be tired around him."

But late last winter, that seemingly boundless energy supply betrayed him. Unable to shake what he presumed was a bug of some sort, Llinas broke down and visited a doctor's office, where the sobering diagnosis was revealed.

Chemotherapy and even a bone-marrow transplant (his dad was a donor) proved futile. Llinas had begun a job as an administrative assistant for an area legal-services team, with dreams of attending law school.

"He may not have achieved that goal," said Pastor Jose Morales of Tampa's Iglesia Nuevo Comienzo, "but one goal he did achieve, he left his mark in the heart of everyone that is here today."

In this case, "mark" may be too weak a term. Try indelible imprint, the kind created by propelling one's self, psyche and spirit into the lives of others.

In that sense, Llinas "Supermanned" it, friends insisted.

"He always found a way," fellow Rocky Alex Clark said, "to bring a light to everything."

Contact Joey Knight at Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

Epilogue: Milton Daniel Llinas
BORN: April 10, 1995
DIED: Oct. 11, 2018
SURVIVED BY: Mother and father, Carla Borda and Milton Llinas; step parents Pedro Borda and Tity Jaramillo; brothers Samuel Borda, Dylan Borda, Samuel Llinas and Carlos Martinez; sister Valerie Llinas; grandmother Mana Navarra llinas; girlfriend Graysen Harrell; several aunts and uncles.
Donations can be made in Milton's name to Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, or Autism Speaks.