Playing football for West Virginia has become a dream come true for sophomore defensive lineman Reese Donahue.
Hailing from Ona, W.Va. and born on June 20, West Virginia Day, Donahue knew he wanted to be a Mountaineer and wear the gold and blue early on.
“I’ve always known where I wanted to be growing up,” Donahue said. “Growing up in West Virginia, I lived in one house my whole life.”
As a West Virginia native, Donahue attended Mountaineer games and idolized players like Pat White, Steve Slaton and Noel Devine.
“I remember coming to games as an eight-year old, five-year old and seeing those guys,” Donahue said. “I remember watching all of them and thinking like ‘Man, I want to be down on that field. I don’t want to be anywhere else.’”
Donahue’s favorite player growing up was fullback Owen Schmitt, who Donahue praises for his drive, will and passion for not only playing for the Mountaineers, but also the state of West Virginia.
“Growing up, I always wore his number,” Donahue said. “I always wore 35 little league, middle school and then high school I started wearing 46.”
As a sophomore at Cabell Midland High School, Donahue didn’t start, but played a lot of snaps.
Following that season, Donahue’s coach told him that he could be one of the best players to come out of Cabell Midland, but at first, Donahue didn’t buy into it.
“I didn’t really believe it,” Donahue said. “I kind of laughed."
Surrounded by a hard working family and community, Donahue knew that his goal of becoming a Mountaineer was still intact.
“All I’ve known is to work,” Donahue said. “That’s how my parents raised me. That’s how the coaching staff is at Cabell Midland. That’s how everybody from that area, it’s all you work for what you get.”
Donahue’s hard work paid off and led him to a visit to Morgantown.
While on the way to Morgantown for his visit, Donahue made it clear to his parents that he would commit to the Mountaineers if an offer came his way.
“I actually told my parents on the way up in the car,” Donahue said. “I was like, ‘Look guys, if they offer, I’m taking it today.’”
West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson extended an offer to Donahue and less than 24 hours later, Donahue called Gibson to let him know that he was on board. West Virginia was the first division one school to give him an offer.
Donahue enrolled at West Virginia early, missing the second half of his senior year in high school. Early on, Donahue faced the challenges that came with being a young underclassmen and an early enrollee.
“I was still 17 when I came here,” Donahue said. “We were out of the dorms in May and I couldn’t sign a lease. My parents had to come cosign for me because I couldn’t even have an apartment to myself.
Despite his age, Donahue doesn’t regret enrolling early and believes it has served beneficial to him during his progression.
“I was ready,” Donahue said. “I felt like I was at a really good place in my life and I feel like I’m at a really good place now. I think I was ready for it and it obviously helped. It helped tremendously and then it helped me get on the field freshman year, but I think it’s one of the best things you can do and it is tough to sacrifice.”
As a freshman last season, Donahue saw action in 12 games and finished the season with 12 tackles.
This season, Donahue has started every game at defensive end and has made a significant impact on West Virginia’s defensive line. Improving his mental aspect of the game has been key to his improvement from last season to this season.
“I really think that a lot of the game is just understanding it,” Donahue said. “The coaches do a great job of getting us where we need to be physically, but the mental part of the game, it comes with time, it comes with getting reps in practice and getting reps in games. A lot of it is between the ears; a lot of it is up top…That is how a lot of progress happens.”
Gibson is one of many who have taken notice to Donahue’s play and progression.
“His technique is so good,” Gibson said. “He just battles to hold the gap, he understands our system. Just really impressed with him, really if you look at his body of work over the past couple of weeks, he has played well.”
As Donahue suits up in the gold and blue on Saturday’s, he experiences both the pride and feeling behind what it means to play for the Mountaineers and the state of West Virginia.
“I’m prideful to play for the state,” Donahue said. “If I were to play for someone else or somewhere else out of state, I probably wouldn’t be this prideful or this passionate because people from outside don’t understand what it means to the people of West Virginia. They don’t understand how big of an impact they have.”
The support of Donahue’s coaches, family and friends have also proved to be beneficial in his journey.
“I’m blessed to have the coaches that I have, the support system that I have, all the way down to family, friends," Donahue said. "They brought me up in a way that I was able to be successful, so it’s not me, it’s also them.”
Now that he’s in the same position as those West Virginia players he grew up idolizing, Donahue’s and other players’ impact will continue to be felt in the state of West Virginia and future Mountaineers.
“It’s hard when you’re in this position to realize the impact that you have,” Donahue said. “But it goes a lot farther than the eye can see.”