Mascot Talk: Mountaineer has a voice

DALLAS — Hand clapping and the number-one finger. That was a big one.

Bruiser the Bear did his Sic-em move, Raider Red had guns up. Willie the Wildcat doesn’t wear gloves or anything on his hands so he can actually make some noise when he claps.

Otherwise, there was a lot of silent miming and gesturing from every Big 12 mascot who was in attendance at the annual Big 12 football media days in Dallas.  

Except one.

Jonathan Kimble is the only school mascot with the luxury of actually speaking.

And did he ever.

Possibly the biggest celebrity of the two-day event, Kimble, the West Virginia Mountaineer mascot, estimated his interview load to have exceeded 100. A figure likely bolstered from the newness of his school in the Big 12, Kimble bounced from television cameras to radio row to the next waiting notepad or audio recorder.

“I’ve done about 130 appearances in the last three months,” Kimble said, whipping out an iPhone to confer his schedule. He made his debut as the Mountaineer at WVU’s spring football game in April. With his arm wrapped around a rifle standing almost as tall as himself, he plowed through a schedule that has something on it every day for the next two weeks.

“Anywhere people want me,” Kimble says. “I try to hit every elementary school pretty much in all of West Virginia. I do nursing homes, camps, alumni things.”

And there are no fees attached to his appearances, personally or for the school. It’s part of the deal that comes with being the WVU Mountaineer.
By year’s end he will have made over 300 personal appearances. With no costume that can be easily filled by someone else, Kimble attains the sole role of Mountaineer.

“It’s quite a process to be (the Mountaineer). They don’t just give it to anybody,” said WVU head football coach Dana Holgorsen. “Those guys are busy about 340 days out of the year, and they have to be personable.”
 Kimble is one of the few college mascots with his own personal assistant coordinating his schedule.

“It’s pretty crazy,” Kimble said with a wide toothy smile through a burly beard.

As Kimble stood chatting comfortably in his airy buckskin suit and coonskin cap, nearby was a girl in shorts and a t-shirt splotched with sweat, strands of wet hair smeared to her shiny face. Caroline Carmer is a Texas senior-to-be and had just spent nearly an hour inside the costume of Hook ‘Em, the character Longhorn mascot. She looked like she just spent 45 minutes on a treadmill.

“To children we’re animals. So, I think that’s one of the reasons we’re not allowed to talk, so not to frighten children,” Carmer said. “Plus, it’s hard to really hear anything we say inside that head anyways, so I imagine it would be hard to, like, amplify what we say.”

Good point.

But, what about a cowboy? Couldn’t Oklahoma State easily update Pistol Pete’s look, loose the head and give him a voice?

“I think that would be hard to do. There’s so much tradition behind the head it would be tough to do anything different,” said Austin Bowles, an OSU junior and one of two who don the 45-pound Pistol Pete head which was created by the Disney company.

So, it appears that pretty much every other school will simply miss out, allowing West Virginia to uniquely corner a market in college athletics: a mascot without a Mute button.

More than 100 members of the media who cover the Big 12 can attest to that, telling his story.

A coffee stain on my shirt is part of telling Kimble’s story. TCU mascot SuperFrog bumped into me without knowing it, spewing Starbucks out of my cup and onto my chest. So not only can Kimble actually speak, he also attains a rare mascot advantage of peripheral vision.

“I can’t believe it. Every time I turn around he’s doing another interview,” said WVU cheerleader Larissa Vlassich, who accompanied Kimble to Dallas from Morgantown.

Fit, curvy cheerleaders and dance team members from all Big 12 schools also in attendance at media days probably had more time in front of cameras than Kimble. As it should be, some may say.

But, no other school representive outside of a coach or player carried quite the voice at Big 12 media days as the West Virginia Mountaineer.