Brady Campbell memorized the mental checklist long ago. Bushy red beard? Yep. Tattered buckskins? Got `em. Mid-19th century musket and powder horn? Good to go.

Such is life for Campbell, who on most days is like any other 23-year-old West Virginia University senior – he attends class and does his homework, working towards completing his major in wood science. But on autumn Saturdays, winter weekdays, and whenever else he feels the inner Daniel Boone rising in his soul, Campbell dons his coonskin cap, slips on his leather moccasins and allows a childhood dream to become a grown man’s reality. He becomes the West Virginia Mountaineer.

As the seventh-seeded Mountaineers make their charge through the NCAA Tournament, Campbell will be cheering, hollering and pretending to fire his fake wooden rifle every step of the way. March Madness will be Campbell’s swan song in hide and leather, the final act of a two-year charade that includes 270 West Virginia athletic events, countless public appearances and more photo ops with small children than Santa Claus and Michael Jackson combined.

“I’ve been going to WVU games all my life,” Campbell said during halftime of last Friday’s Big East quarterfinal. “When I was a small child, the Mountaineer used to come to my seats a lot, and I looked up to him like a superhero type guy. When I got old enough to try out I wanted to be that guy – I wanted to be a role model for kids.”

When Campbell came to Morgantown as a freshman, he realized simply wanting was not enough, for a man’s metamorphosis into Mountaineer is no simple process. At West Virginia, it’s a tradition unto itself. First, Campbell filled out an application, penning essays on topics such as “How would you promote positive fan behavior?” and “What is your favorite Mountaineer memory?” Next came the formal interview, in which a 12-person panel of alumni and administrators grilled him on everything from athletic dexterity (the Mountaineer must lead the football team onto the field without tripping) to political correctness (the Mountaineer represents the university and the state, and must act accordingly).

It was then that Campbell first grew out his whiskers, which have covered his face ever since and ensure he’s never carded when purchasing moonshine. Having withstood the WVU inquisition, Campbell and four other finalists were trotted out wearing “false” buckskins to strut their stuff at a home basketball game “cheer off.” At the basketball game the following weekend, Campbell experienced Appalachia nirvana.

“The PA announcer said, `And the next Mountaineer is.Brady Campbell!'” Campbell recalled. “I went running out there and shook the old Mountaineers’ hand and took his rifle and held it up.it was the best feeling in the world.”

Since that glorious day, Campbell has lived the dream – and never gotten a vacation. He has attended every men’s and women’s hoops contest and soccer game, and he hasn’t missed one gymnastics meet or wrestling match. He has traveled to Arizona and Florida with the football team, Texas with women’s basketball and made his second trip to the Big Apple last week for the Big East Tourney. He has visited children’s hospitals and nursing homes, read books to schoolchildren and turned down multiple requests to appear at National Rifle Association events (NRA functions were not approved by the university, and Campbell claims he’s never been hunting). All in one weathered pair of buckskins.

ascots are as integral to CBS’ March Madness coverage as “Survivor” promos and Billy Packer’s bald pate. But the unending quest for fuzzy cuddliness breeds duplicity. Could you honestly pick Jack the Bulldog out of a lineup consisting of Georgia’s Uga, Mississippi State’s Bully or Drake’s Spike? Did Kansas’ Big Jay have to write an essay before being serenaded with “Rock, chalk, Jayhawk”? How politically correct is Hooter the Temple Owl?

Often, Campbell catches himself peering down from the mascot mountaintop.

“[The Notre Dame Leprechaun and I] are unique because we can talk to you,” Campbell explained, adding that he doesn’t see why more schools don’t switch to human mascots for the pure public relations advantage. “There’s only a handful that can do that.”

I came to face the truth, quite literally, the next night when I approached ROC, the ever-peppy Pitt Panther. It couldn’t talk, much less lead 16,000 people in a heartfelt rendition of “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”

When I suggested to Campbell the fortune he could accrue were he to cut ties with the university and pursue mountaineering for profit, he scoffed at the idea.

“That’s never crossed my mind – this is something that I have always wanted to do because it is such an honor in the state of West Virginia.” Campbell said. “I don’t want to be a clown.”

This spring, Campbell will proudly pass his musket on, shimmy into his `skins, and set out for the hills, forever carrying out the motto of his home state, Montani semper liberi: “Mountaineers are always free.”

And unshaven.

Harlan Goode is a senior in the College. He can be reached at goodethehoya.com. The Goode Worde appears every Friday in HOYA SPORTS.

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