MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — Most people of Wil Schoonover’s age are well out of college. Some are well-established in their careers, and others are working their way through a graduate discipline.

Schoonover, however, is spending his 25th year mostly at Milan Puskar Stadium, achieving a lifelong dream to wear WVU’s colors. The linebacker is in his second year as a Mountaineer football player, but he has had a much different road to this point than his fellow seniors on the team.

A member of the Moorefield High School class of 2016, Schoonover had several options to choose from after crossing the stage at graduation. He was a standout on the football field, the wrestling mat and the baseball diamond, and earned scholarship offers in all three sports.

Schoonover ultimately chose to play football at Glenville State, but academic issues prevented him from playing that fall. He then set foot on an entirely new path, enlisting in the United States Army.

“For me, I wanted to serve my country,” Schoonover said. “I was very patriotic all growing up, so I did.”

In December, he left Glenville. In February of 2017 — Valentine’s Day, to be exact — he flew to Fort Benning in Georgia for basic training.

“My mom was not very happy about that,” he recalled.

10 months later, right before Christmas, Schoonover was deployed to Afghanistan.

Schoonover returned home in June and stayed in the Army. He started taking more leadership positions with the service, trying out for and earning a spot in the reconnaissance sniper platoon and leading a team there.

When his time in the Army ended in 2020, Schoonover focused on realizing his lifelong dream of playing for the Old Gold and Blue.

Schoonover wanted to follow in the footsteps of a Moorefield legend, Reed Williams. The former WVU linebacker cemented his name in Mountaineer lore as the centerpiece of the program’s successful teams in the late 2000s. In 2008, he was named the Defensive MVP of the Fiesta Bowl after leading WVU to a blowout upset against Oklahoma.

“He’s been like a big brother to me,” Schoonover said. “A lot of mentoring and a lot of talks outside of football…and how this is just a stepping stone in my life, my journey.”

Reaching that stepping stone as a 23-year-old walk-on wasn’t easy, however. Schoonover’s first chance to join WVU was in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic for the 2020 season. Not only did WVU not hold walk-on tryouts that summer, but he had some issues with compliance that prevented him from joining the team anyway.

As Schoonover puts it, he had to serve “the Big 12 punishment.”

Schoonover had to earn an Associate’s degree with a 2.5 GPA in at least three semesters at a non-Power Five school. He instead went to work with a youth development group helping troubled kids acclimate to the workforce.

“They probably learned a lot from me, but I really learned a lot about myself and teaching these kids, being a role model and as their boss,” Schoonover said.

Schoonover said he was “bored” with his life when he finished that job, but fortunately, a connection led him to get a roster spot on Potomac State’s baseball team. He played catcher for a season, appearing in 12 games and batting .350 with a .750 slugging percentage. Then, he thought, he was ready to head north to Morgantown.

Just one thing stood in the way of his walk-on tryout at WVU: a science class. Schoonover got that done, then on the first day of school in the 2021 fall semester, he was at practice with the Mountaineers.

Schoonover has become an important piece of the team, despite seeing the field in just one game in his career. He led the Mountaineers out of the tunnel last season against Oklahoma State carrying the Stars and Stripes during Military Appreciation Day, and he will likely do the same on Saturday before squaring off against Oklahoma.

This fall, head coach Neal Brown wrote a letter to the Football Writers Associaton of America to nominate the linebacker for the Armed Forces Merit Award, praising his leadership and attitude.

“[Wil] attacks his day with energy and a positive outlook that has not only made him a favorite of his teammates, but to West Virginia fans,” Brown wrote. “Part of your award is based on community service and [Wil] knows the importance of this civic responsibility and never lets us down. He knows how to better a person, how to motivate and how to connect with people of all ages.”

Schoonover was named one of the six finalists for the award in October.

That attitude is apparent as his team has weathered some rough patches during his tenure. Sure, losses bother him, but at the end of the day, he recognizes that the stakes on a football field don’t touch those he risked overseas.

“Here, you lose a football game, everybody wakes up the next day. You prepare, you eat,” Schoonover said. “In war, that is not such the case.”