(Photo courtesy of West Virginia Athletics)

When I was in high school, the plan was never for me to wear a West Virginia jersey.

Back then, my entire plan was to become a Maryland Terrapin. I am so glad things turned out differently.

At the time, however, finding out that I had lost my scholarship was devastating. What hurt almost as much as the news itself was how I found out.

I was 16 years old, and one day I got a phone call from a journalist. I don't think he called to ruin my day - he probably wanted to see my reaction to losing my scholarship, or to check in on how I was doing after finding out the news. But I didn't know how to react, because I didn't even know what he was talking about.

I tried calling my recruiter, and I couldn't get a hold of him. At that point, besides accepting Christ in my life, choosing where to attend college was the biggest decision I had made up to that point. And now I had no idea where I was going, or who still wanted me.

It was a difficult time, especially because I had attended a private Catholic school so I could have the best chance to succeed academically and athletically. I was bussed in to the school, and all I had to do was look around the classroom to see I was different than everybody else, but Conwell-Egan Catholic High School was supposed to be my ticket to college.

I got in touch with my recruiter and found out that Maryland would only offer me a scholarship if they still had one left on signing day. After all that hard work, it looked like I would have to start over again.

That's when Rich Rodriguez entered the picture.

I had no idea at the time, but getting turned down by Maryland was one of the best things that could have happened to a running back like me. In an era where offenses started turning to pass-heavy formations, Rich Rod was still a run-first kind of guy. And he wanted me to play for him.


(Photo courtesy of West Virginia Athletics)

The question wasn't if I wanted to play in his offense, but rather if I could ever find the field. WVU had a ton of great athletes on the roster, but in the fifth game of the season I finally got to shine. It was a weird feeling, because our team also suffered our first loss of the season that day against Virginia Tech, but that was the game where things began to change for me.

Little did I know it, but West Virginia was about to enter what people now call the glory years. But I can only take some of the credit for that. With Pat White as our quarterback, we won every game the rest of the season and averaged over 38 points a game.


When we beat Georgia that year in the Sugar Bowl, that's when it really sank in that we were a legitimate powerhouse. That proved to be the case my sophomore year, when we started the next season 7-0 and finished the season 11-2 with a win in the Gator Bowl.

With Pat and I both back for our junior years, it looked like we had a real shot to be National Champions. And going into the last home game, that still looked to be the case.

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Thomas Hager