Donahue keeps his focus on here, now
MORGANTOWN — One the best, and perhaps most underappreciated, football players in recent memory from the Mountain State is about to embark on his final season playing in his home state.
Do not, however, ask Reese Donahue to look back and start reminiscing just yet. There will be time for that when the 2019 season, and his playing days at West Virginia University, wraps up.
Donahue came to WVU after a standout career as a prep player at Ona’s Cabell Midland High. While at Midland, Donahue developed into one of the most dominant defensive players in state high school football history.
At the conclusion of his senior season with the Knights in 2015, Donahue became the first player to simultaneously capture both the Huff Award as the state’s top prep defensive player and the Stydahar (formerly Hunt) Award as the top lineman — offensive or defensive — in West Virginia.
That production on the high school gridiron led Donahue to a scholarship opportunity at WVU. Since arriving in Morgantown, Donahue has been a consistent contributor for the Mountaineers’ defense. Now, with the final week of spring practice upon him and staring down his final season in Morgantown, Donahue said he does not plan to do any looking back until it’s over.
“I’ll think about it after I’m done, really,” Donahue said during
Tuesday’s player interview session in Morgantown. “You can’t get caught up in that stuff. Coach (Neal) Brown actually just talked about being where your feet are. He was talking about the Final Four game (Monday) in the team meeting. He said, ‘Be where your feet are. You can’t really think about the future, the past, what’s going on if you mess up on a play — forget it. You’re right here, right now and this is the only opportunity you really have to make a difference.’
“I can’t think about the future, the past — it’s all about being where your feet are. I’m sure here in 300 days or so when football season is over and I’ve played my last snap as a Mountaineer, I’ll look back and reflect on all the stuff I’ve gone through and enjoyed.”
Still, Donahue credits his high school coach — former Ravenswood High and Marshall University standout Luke Salmons, who, like Donahue, was once named the top prep lineman in West Virginia — with setting him up and pointing him in the right direction when it came to making the leap from high school star to big-time college football.
“Coach Salmons, he did a great job of high school into the transition of college,” Donahue said. “Even that first year in college when I would go home very frequently, he was always there — ‘How’s it going? How’s this?’ I’d be like, ‘Coach, listen. You’re never going to believe what they’re doing. They’re doing this and that,’ and he’d be like, ‘Yeah, I should have told you that. Here’s what they’re going to do next.’ Then I’d come back up here and that’s what they did next.”
As Donahue has grown as a college player, those trips home to “The Castle” in Ona have become less frequent. That doesn’t mean, however, that he has forgotten or disregarded the lesson from Salmons. In fact, he said Tuesday he could see some similarities in the advice given by Salmons and new WVU defensive line coach Jordan Lesley.
“Coach Lesley, he kind of reads my mind up here,” Donahue said. “He talks about coaching and how all it is is the bumpers on a bowling alley. You can guide people to do what they want to do, but ultimately it’s their decision what they want to do with this. Coach Salmons did a good job (of that), and after you get your first year in college you kind of take some training wheels off. He texts me still, ‘Hey how you doing? You guys OK?’ Stuff like that. He clearly cares, but there has to be a point where you take it and run with it. I think he does a good job of setting guys off like that.”
What comes next for Donahue after football at WVU remains to be seen. He famously proposed to his girlfriend at the time, former West Virginia gymnast Sarah Moore, after the Mountaineers’ October 2018 win against Kansas in Morgantown. Donahue brought Moore down onto the field to pop the question, and Milan Puskar Stadium erupted in cheers when she said yes.
So other than planning a wedding, Donahue’s future remains open after football.
“Ultimately it’s been a phenomenal ride, and you guys aren’t getting rid of me this fast,” Donahue said. “I’ll be around.”