When Nick O'Toole enters a room, people stop and stare. He is, after all, one of the most popular and recognizable athletes at West Virginia University. Somehow, he achieved this as the team's punter.
How did a punter become such a cult hero among Mountaineer fans? Well, it has a little something to do with the reason why everyone's stopping to look at him in the first place: the facial hair.
"When you have a mustache and you look like you're 35 years old, it stands out among other 20-year-old guys," O'Toole said. "I think it's fun, I have a good time with it, the fans seem to enjoy it, so I just try to have as much fun with it as I can while I'm here."
Nick O'Toole waltzed into Morgantown in 2013 with an immaculate handlebar mustache and a big right leg, and he's never looked back. Extremely talented and instantly likable, It took him only a couple weeks into his Mountaineer career to earn a nickname—"Boomstache"—that has stuck with him ever since.
"I just thought 'Let's do something outrageous,' so I had the long hair and the mustache and I thought 'OK, that works.' It just took off after that."
This year, O'Toole upped the ante. The senior from Corona, Calif. shocked the Mountaineer world by ditching his vaudeville villain mustache and replacing it with a bushy beard that makes him look more like a Duck Dynasty cast member than a football player.
"I wanted to grow a beard during the offseason, so I said 'OK, we'll start it now and then we'll see what happens.' I just love it so much and people seem to like it, and it's working right now. Today it was a little itchy, but I just have to put some oil on it and we're good."
Perhaps all of this would be less amusing if O'Toole wasn't so productive on the field, but 'Boomstache' ('Boombeard?' O'Toole doesn't mind, as long as the nicknames are nice) has established himself as one of the better punters to wear the gold and blue of West Virginia. O'Toole's career yards-per-punt average ranks second in West Virginia history, in between future All-Pros Todd Sauerbrun and Pat McAfee.
Take a talented player in an offbeat position, and add a goofy personality and can't miss facial hair, and that's how a fan favorite is born in college football.
"You can only be so serious for so long. I love to take the fun, joke-around attitude towards everything and enjoy life, because you only get to do this thing once," O'Toole says. "You might as well have some fun with it, because people get so hyped up about football. There's a time to be serious, and there's a time to have a good time and enjoy what you're doing. I like to focus on that as much as I can."
David Statman is SI's campus correspondent at West Virginia University. Follow him on Twitter.