Mascot Memoirs: W. Virginia's mountaineer
May, 9, 2013
By Theresa Manahan | ESPN.com
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesSome live to be a mascot. Others, such as Jonathan Kimble at West Virginia, live as a mascot.
When the lights go out, the concessions stands close and the court is cleared, Jonathan Kimble is still on. In fact, as West Virginia's mascot, his job as a 24/7 ambassador for the university never ends.
Because, unlike other mascots who can step into and out of their getups, Kimble wakes already in costume. And while other colleges might have five or six people playing the part, West Virginia taps just a sole individual to live up to the role.
That's the making of the Mountaineer, complete with a burly beard, accented by red hair, and decked out with a coonskin hat and loaded (gunpowder only) rifle. Despite appearance, the beard is not required. But in all tasks mascot-related, Kimble goes full-mounty.
Some of the things that have surprised him the most are that some people don’t understand West Virginia is an actual state, not a region of Virginia. Also, he has been overwhelmed by how many pictures of him there are floating around the World Wide Web.
“I’ll be in normal clothes in New York City or Washington, D.C.," he says, "and people are like, 'Aren’t you the Mountaineer?' They’ll have a picture of me pulled up on their phone asking, ‘This is you, isn’t it?’ I’m like, 'Actually, it’s my brother.'”
Kimble estimates that in the past 11 months, he has covered more than 300 events throughout West Virginia as well as other Big 12 territories in the school's first year in the conference. Kimble, now a grad student working toward a master's in industrial and labor relations, tried out for the position four years in a row. After the most recent auditions, he’ll have the pleasure of donning that gear one more year as the school’s representative for all things Mountain State.
Here's a glance at some of his most memorable moments from the past year:
What: ESPN 'College GameDay' Commercial
Where: USC campus
When: May 21-23, 2012
"They flew me out to California, put me in this incredible hotel next to the Santa Monica Pier, gorgeous view and perfect weather there. So I got to meet up with coach Dana Holgorsen, and they shuttled us over to USC’s campus, where they were doing filming. I got to meet Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, Chris Fowler and Erin Andrews.
"We got there and watched a little bit of the filming of the USC commercials. Lane Kiffin was there. If you haven’t seen the commercial, it’s funny. I stared down Lee Corso from the corner, and they were just cracking up laughing the whole time. It’s kind of nice to see the 'GameDay' crew behind the scenes. It took at least 30 or 40 takes; they couldn’t stop laughing at me staring at them."
What: Big 12 Football Media Day
When: July 23-24, 2012
"That was another definitely highlight of my summer. I got to be not only an ambassador for WVU but also for the state of West Virginia. It was my first interaction with all the other mascots, so I got to meet Boomer and Sooner [Oklahoma] and Cy [Iowa State] and all the great other mascots. It was neat for all of us to be together and see what they do and some of their traditions from their school.
"This is WVU’s first year in the Big 12, and everyone is so welcoming and wants to know more about West Virginia. And since I don’t have a big mask over my head, I was able to do interviews with all the other schools, and tell how wonderful the Mountain State is and all the fun and exciting things they are able to do when they come to Morgantown. Oklahoma is definitely the highlight of our schedule. And so when Bob Stoops walked into the room, I’m like, 'Coach, we’ll see you in Morgantown in 117 days!'"
What: Baylor vs. West Virginia football game
Courtesy of the Big 12 Conference Not a bad ambassador to the new conference.
Where: Mountaineer Field, Morgantown, W.Va.
When: Sept. 29, 2012
"It was our first Big 12 game, so it’s homecoming, a lot of fun, a lot of excitement. That was the day Geno Smith put up video game-like stats: threw for over 650 yards, eight touchdowns. Final score was 70-63 in a West Virginia victory. The one thing I do as the West Virginia Mountaineer is I do pushups for every time West Virginia scores. I think I did around 385 pushups that day. And I almost ran out of gunpowder because I was firing the gun for every touchdown."
What: Climbing Seneca Rocks
Where: Eastern West Virginia
When: Oct. 17, 2012
"Seneca Rocks is a landmark in West Virginia. People used to go there and climb during World War II. It’s a big rock structure kind of out in the middle of nowhere, about half an hour from my hometown [in Pendleton Co., W. Va.]. So one day after a football game, people suggested we go climb Seneca Rock and maybe get some really nice footage of the fall foliage. So we left Morgantown one morning before sunrise and got there. It took about two and a half hours to get to the summit or the peak of Seneca Rock. It was kind of a neat experience climbing in my buckskin. It was pretty steep up there on top; it’s about a football-field drop-off on each side. I’m in buckskin every single day, but it was actually perfect weather that day, probably 50 or 60 degrees out there. Ideal for the buckskins."
What: TCU vs. WVU football game
Where: Mountaineer Field, Morgantown, W.Va.
When: Nov. 3, 2012
"I chased down the TCU Horned Frog. I’m a frog gig. You know here in the country of West Virginia, we go gigging, mainly for eels and different things like that. But there’s one for frogs. So I started chasing the TCU mascot around the field with my frog gig a little bit. Born here and raised in West Virginia, I’m a hunter at heart. I’ve been hunting and fishing my whole life. You’re supposed to have your hunter’s certification course for the role, but I think I took that back when I was in middle school."
What: Hunting in costume
Where: Pendleton County, W.Va.
When: Dec. 3, 2012
"We hit the woods there probably 6 a.m. and were out all morning tracking the bear. We got it probably around lunchtime. After I cooked up all the meat, [I] actually took all the meat to a basketball game, gave it out to the students. It was really good. I’m going to make a rug out of the fur now. And I’m taking the jawbone and I’m going to make a set a knife handles from the jawbone.
"I wasn’t in buckskin hunting, just took my Mountaineer rifle with me. I’ve taken it deer hunting and harvest[ed] a couple deer with it before. I took it deer hunting with me back in September, had a chance to shoot one but I passed on it and let someone from the Wounded Warrior program shoot their first deer. I killed my first bear with it. Still, me and Baylor’s Bruiser (a bear) get along pretty well. He might be a little afraid of me now, but ..."
Courtesy of Greg Ellis, WVU PhotographyHe is a Mountaineer, after all.
[Editor's note: Kimble was cited for not wearing blaze orange during this hunt, and the action also caused a public outcry. He did not comment on the controversy.]
On a certain mascot bond: "Pistol Pete (Oklahoma State), he carries a little [six-]shooter with him, and Texas Tech’s mascot, Masked Rider, he fires off some shotguns before the game. And so I’ve got a little closer bond with the mascots that deal with the guns. When I went to Oklahoma State, Pistol Pete fired off his gun and I wasn’t too impressed, unfortunately. It sounded like a little cap gun. Mine can definitely make people jump pretty good."
On his accessories: "The guy who makes the rifle, I go to him for gunpowder, and he gives me however much I need. We get a new rifle approximately every eight to 10 years that’s passed down from each Mountaineer to Mountaineer. The buckskin is made out of real deerskin. They’re custom to each Mountaineer, and we get to keep those."