Have Gun – Will Travel

There have been expressed concerns about West Virginia's travel, the quick turnarounds to Big 12 country. But the person it arguably affects most isn't all that bothered.

West Virginia University mascot Jonathan Kimble, the Mountaineer, is perhaps the person who should be fretting over the longer flights, the more distant road venues. It's one thing for a team to have road games spaced, say, four days apart. Consecutive contests aren't a problem – a team merely stays in a hotel and catches a flight from road game A to road game B. It's another for Kimble, who travels to all the football games, the vast majority of men's basketball games and also tries to hit as many other home and road games as possible.

Kimble, booked every day this month – a ‘quiet'period – said he is also already scheduled for events every weekend until the end of football season. But the road travel, including to the July 23 and 24 media days where he will assemble with the other 10 Big 12 mascots, isn't a concern for him at all.

"It's more exciting," said Kimble, who fired off the rifle a few times at the celebratory cookout, including once with Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby looming. "It's going to be busy but unreal. Marshall here, the bye week, FedEx and then Baylor and the Big 12, all the games and the road trips."

The first is at Texas' Darryl K. Royal – Memorial Stadium, where on Oct. 6 Kimble will be the first Mountaineer mascot to set foot in a Big 12 stadium for an official conference game.

"That's a big one, 100,000 people, hot," he said. "I don't know what to expect with 100,000. That's a lot. They take football seriously down there."

And mascots, too. Texas' Bevo, a 1,300 pound, five-foot tall longhorn steer, is perhaps the most recognizable symbol in the Lone Star State besides, well, the Lone Star. The current Bevo, 14th in the lineage starting in 1916, even has his own handlers, a student group called the Silver Spurs. Add in the Sooner Schooner, the masked Red Raider, the uniqueness of TCU's Horned Frog and Kansas' Jayhawk, and the Big 12 is as deep with mascots as it is football talent.

"I'll show them the rifle," Kimble said. And if that doesn't work…he can always try to make friends. The mascots will gather at the Big 12 media days to shoot – proverbially, not literally – public service announcements and conference advertisements. It's here that Kimble will get his first chance to meet the students who man the other mascot outfits.

Kimble did note that he would not be shooting the rifle at opposing venues out of a respect for their traditions and universities, a kindness that is extended when opposing teams visit Mountaineer Field as well.

"I will definitely be able to carry," he said. "I've never got stopped before, gunpowder and all. It's a legal and, mainly, a respect issue. We don't want those guys coming in here and firing off their cannon or gun or whatever. So out of respect, I don't do it. But if it's at a neutral site, national championship game, I'll do it. Anywhere in West Virginia, yeah, why not? But in an away venue, I'd rather be safe than sorry."

The neutral site exception will be this season's second game, against James Madison at FedEx Field in Hanover, Md. Guns cannot be fired in NFL stadiums – though cannon appear to be ok, a la Tampa Bay – and thus Kimble will have to pocket the gunpower. He will, however, continue the push-up sets that have become a staple after WVU scores.

"I've been doing some lifting as well, getting ready for push-ups. The strength and conditioning staff is pushing me," he said. "I think it's going to be a great season. The players are working hard. Dana Holgorsen, great coach, great man. This is the year we will make our presence known, it'll be in the history books, first season. I'm real excited for basketball season, too."

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