Having been a West Virginia Mountaineer football fan since I was barely old enough to comprehend what football even was, I have seen classes of collegiate athletes come and go. Some of these young men have gone on to see great success in the pros, while others have enjoyed success in far more difficult arenas of life. Sadly, some of these former stars of Saturday have met tragic ends to their stories. This is the very definition of life: A collection of billions of twisting and turning pathways always intersecting and paralleling, yet each pathway can only be traveled by a single person.
As a child, the athletes who dawned the blue and gold jerseys in Morgantown each autumn seemed so big and old to me, but these days — as I have a lot more weight and less hair than I did a few decades back — I see them as mere kids. Young boys with so much living still to come.
As with life, football is a game of ups and downs — mountain highs and valley lows. I was there in 1995 when the 7-0 Mountaineers saw their season unravel the moment Miami blocked a punt in the final seconds of a home game.
I was there when Don Nehlen coached his final game in phenomenal fashion against Ole Miss. I was there when Rich Rodriguez returned to his home state of West Virginia and when he left.
We’ll never forget the folksy charm of Bill Stewart or the wild haired man from Texas who reminded everyone of the crazy uncle they wish they could be; a guy who fueled up on Red Bulls and ordered a two-point conversion attempt in Austin just last year. #HornsDown.
I love college football because of the authenticity, emotion and real life that defines it.
Unfortunately, a characteristic of real life is that things never stay the same and as Mountaineers this means that names like Major Harris, Bulger, Zereoué, Brad Lewis, Wes Ours, Pat White, Sills V, Grier and hundreds of others come and go; brief caretakers of the majesty and meaning of Mountaineer Football. An ideal that is larger than any coach, quarterback or even a team.
In this world, people come for a season then vanish away and college football highlights this fact of life in a way few other levels do.
Though we say goodbye to names we have grown accustomed to Toni Caridi shouting each week, this year seems especially difficult as so much about Mountaineer football is changing.
To the guys who have gone on to the NFL, we say congratulations. Stand out, on the field but more so off the field — never forget where you came from or the people who got you where you are today.
To the Mountaineers who were not so fortunate to have been drafted, we say thank you. You may have received a scholarship to play on Saturdays, but you earned it with your blood and sweat. There’s a whole lot of life still left and you will in the years to come that dreams are ever changing and closed doors simply means there are other entrances waiting to be unlocked. Keep fighting. The world is in great need of strong, compassionate, hardworking and tough men. Be this man.
We have cheered for all of you, at various points in your collegiate career we have probably cursed you, in final seconds of games we prayed for you, watching replays we’ve been amazed by you, but above all else, we have always loved you; for no other reason than because you chose to wear our helmet. A helmet that represents an embattled and struggling state that knows what it’s like to be down, but refuses to throw in the towel.
We are Mountaineers and we’re glad you chose to be as well.
The relationship between the fan and their athlete is a bizarre one, but as a Mountaineers, you have given an entire state hope when frankly, such hope has been in short supply.
When I was a child, the guys who wore the blue and gold were superstars in my eyes. Now, I see you as ordinary human beings who have earned extraordinary opportunities. Seize these opportunities. Live your dream and go on to achieve great things in life.
In your life’s travels, whenever you see the Flying WV affixed to a car window or on a hat, always remember that there are hundreds of thousands of people who have watched you transform from a boy into a man and we’re pulling for you in life!
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