MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–Growing up in the Mountain State, West Virginia residents know exactly what it means to carry a passion for its state and its football team.
On Saturday afternoon, the West Virginia University football team will step on the field to take on the Iowa State Cyclones, but for 21 seniors it will be the last time they step on the field at Milan Puskar Stadium as student-athletes.
Outsiders just don’t understand the passion of a Mountaineer unless you get a chance to experience that first hand.
For one WVU athlete, he was left at a loss for words about what it means to be a Mountaineer, to become a member of this state.
“Honestly, I can’t even really put into words,” Jared Barber said. “Something that is very, very special to me. I’ll always be a Mountaineer wherever I go. It’s just something that I can’t even talk about because I don’t really know what to say. It’s something very, very special to me and also my family. WVU fans and all the Mountaineers in West Virginia have welcomed me and my family in like one of their own. It’s just been an awesome, awesome experience.”
The 6-foot, 232-pound senior linebacker cherished his time at WVU.
“My favorite moment was definitely carrying the flag out the first game this year against Georgia Southern,” Barber said. “Just knowing what that flag represents and what it means to me. I am not from West Virginia, but I’ve been here for a couple years. Just carrying that flag out, is definitely my most favorite experience.”
Everyone’s idea of being a Mountaineer is different, but the passion is all the same.
“It’s been everything to me,” redshirt senior linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski said. “Honestly, if I wasn’t a Mountaineer I don’t know where else I would be. Just to have the opportunity to play football here has been a great four and a half years.”
“To be a Mountaineer means everything to me,” senior safety KJ Dillon added. “Because I come from a little place called Pawpaw, Florida that’s not very big on things, that doesn’t have a very big fan base. Not a lot of people know you. But once I came here and I got the whole state behind me. I got all the fan base and all the tradition and legacy to live up to. That’s just great because I’m just glad to be able to be around so many fans that just love you the way they do.”
“It means everything. To be a Mountaineer is to be a brother to all my fellow Mountaineers and everything,” redshirt senior offensive lineman Marquis Lucas said.” We have been through so much since I’ve been here.”
Whether it is carrying a flag, going to a top tier bowl game, gaining 100 brothers or playing a national powerhouse under the lights, they are memories that will forever be etched in the minds of those young men.
“My favorite memory was definitely my freshman year, the Orange Bowl,” Kwiatkoski added. “My favorite memory here was running out against LSU. I wasn’t playing, but just the experience in that was definitely was a special moment for me.”
For others, it’s the bonds you build. The family you gain.
“Just being able to come here everyday and work, being around these guys,” said redshirt senior cornerback Terrell Chestnut. “It’s a special bond that we have with one another and I wouldn’t want to be on another team. This is just the best decision of my life to come to West Virginia.”
Being from West Virginia is an honor to the people who were born there; it is also an honor to the young men to represent the state on the field.
“It means everything,” Chestnut said. “Just to represent this state and these great people in this state. It means a lot. A lot of people think it’s pressure to be able to represent so many people, but it’s such a great feeling to know that you have the support of 1.8 million people.”
When you are born and raised in West Virginia you know what being a Mountaineer means to a T. Redshirt tight end Cody Clay is from Alum Creek, a small city near Charleston.
Growing up a WVU fan, Clay is the epitome of every Mountaineer.
“This is where I am from,” Clay said. “It’s all I’ve known when it comes to football because we don’t have a pro team as you know. And Marshall. I’m going to get some slack for that. So really just being able to represent this state because for what I do people shouldn’t know me. Because I don’t do a whole lot of flashy stuff. I just do what they tell me to do. I’m a glorified lineman. But still this fan page I got, I have people go on there and tell me how much they love me and all this stuff. I wouldn’t have that if I wasn’t from West Virginia. So you know how much they support the people from West Virginia, the state, the fans. That’s awesome.”
It doesn’t matter whether you were born a Mountaineer or became one by choice, it’s a passion and a way of life. In the end, it becomes home forever.
“It’s crazy because three or four years ago, just like man this place is so different,” Lucas said. “But now I love it. I feel like there is nothing about Morgantown that I don’t know. It’s definitely a second home and it’s going to be tough to leave, man it’s going to be tough to leave. Just being somewhere so long and getting to know the coach of this state and the people and how much they love you. It’s just hard. Who wants to leave that good warmth?”
So on Saturday when the Mountaineers take the field it may seem like another day, but it is the end of an incredible journey and the strengthening of a bond that will forever be.
Like Pat White used to say “Once A Mountaineer, Always A Mountaineer.”