KANSAS CITY — Mary Roush’s time as the Mountaineer Mascot is winding down. The Mason, West Virginia native is rounding out her one-year tenure as one of the faces of West Virginia University athletics.

Her successor, Boone County’s Mike Hager, was announced last Saturday. Hager will officially take over the buckskins and musket in April, following the annual passing of the rifle ceremony.

Roush is in Kansas City for the Phillips 66 Big 12 Men’s Basketball Tournament and reflected on her time serving as the symbol of the Mountain State’s top athletics program.

“It’s meant everything and more. Being the Mountaineer is the biggest honor I will have in my lifetime,” Roush said in an exclusive interview with Gold and Blue Nation. “It’s the biggest honor any West Virginian can have. Every minute I’ve gotten to wear these buckskins, and represent WVU and the state of West Virginia, has been a dream come true.”

When Roush was named the 68th Mountaineer in 2022, she became the first freshman to earn the title. She became just the third female ever to be the Mountaineer, and was at the helm of the mascot role when it was named the Best Live Human Mascot by the National Mascot Hall of Fame.

Despite being a West Virginia native, she said the biggest lesson she learned in the role over the past year was just how significant the mascot is to the population of this state and others.

“It didn’t matter where I was in this state, it didn’t matter where I was in the country, you know Mountaineers are everywhere, and they love the Mountaineer,” she said. “I knew people would want pictures and this and that, but just the large amount of people who just loved [the Mountaineer] was awesome.”

Always willing to stop for a picture, she has been one of the most-photographed people in the state since last April. Roush has made a connection with fans both young and old. She mentioned a small group of young Mountaineer fans she has gotten to know, saying: “Those kids will hold a place in my heart for the rest of my life, and I’ll never forget them.”

In less than two months, Hager will be the one to have those interactions and build connections with Mountaineer fans across the country. As a four-year member of the WVU cheer squad, Hager is used to performing in front of West Virginia and opposing fans. He has also had a front-row seat to watch Roush and other previous Mountaineers wear the buckskins.

It will be a different experience for the senior exercise physiology major once he trades in his gold and blue cheerleading uniform for the coonskin cap and the musket.

“Definitely soak it in,” Roush said, asked for her biggest piece of advice to the future mascot. “It went by so fast. And just make sure you soak in every minute of it and don’t take it for granted.”

Roush will be a tough act to follow. She has seemingly expanded the in-game role of the Mountaineer.

She has performed with the Pride of West Virginia marching band. She has danced with the WVU Dance Team. And she has also stunted with the cheer squad, aided by Hager.

“I just think it’s really important for the Mountaineer,” Roush said. “I do so much. I’m still a part of [the] spirit. I am the mascot at the end of the day, and I always think it’s good to do stuff with my friends.”

The question will soon become: What can Hager do to leave his mark on the legacy of the Hall of Fame mascot? Thanks, in part, to his experience with the cheer squad, Hager appears to be a natural in front of a crowd. He certainly had a commanding presence when he led his first “Let’s Go … Mountaineers!” cheer last Saturday, just moments after being named the 69th Mountaineer Mascot.

However, Hager’s legacy could be made quickly, thanks to his impressive hairstyle.

“I think he’s already made a legacy for himself with his mullet,” Roush said with a laugh. “He’s already made a legacy as a cheerleader, and I know he’s going to do it as the Mountaineer. The greatest thing to do is be loud and be proud.”