Family, Loyalty Run Deep For Dante Stills
FAIRMONT, W.Va. – When Dante Stills talks about his reasons to attend West Virginia, it all eventually winds around to family.
Many point to Dante’s father, Gary Stills, as the driving force behind his decision to be a Mountaineer. Stills played three seasons at WVU from 1996-98, and was an elite rush linebacker before a 10-year NFL career. But Stills spent much of Dante’s childhood playing away from the Fairmont area.
The centerpiece of the family is Dante’s mom, Janeen Floyd. Along with raising Dante and older brother Darius, a freshman defensive lineman at WVU, Floyd was a key component of their love of the game from simple trips across town for practices and games, to traveling the circuits of various recruitment camps. And when she was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, that love came back tenfold from Darius, Dante and other family members.
“(Dante) watched my little one when I would go to radiation treatments,” Floyd said. “At first, I hid it from him, but they could tell there was something wrong with me. They could tell I had been crying and when I told him, he took it the hardest. Darius is more a quiet person, doesn’t really show you how he feels. He’s holding it all in. Dante was a mess. But I knew I was going to fine. I had to make sure they knew that no matter what, everything was going to be OK.”
Including Dante’s opportunity to maximize his collegiate choices. Before she would undergo radiation, Janeen insisted upon taking Dante through his camp opportunities, getting him the maximum exposure and options. There were countless hours on the road, and countless additions to the family car odometer.
“A lot,” Janeen said when asked about the total number of miles traveled. “I did it while I was sick. We went through all those camps for a whole month. I don’t even know how many. We’d drive from one to another. That’s when I was going through my radiation, and I said I wasn’t going to go through my radiation until I could get them through the camps.”
The prognosis was excellent that Floyd would make a full recovery, so the statement isn’t quite as outlandish as it might seem. But it showcases the unselfishness and love between Janeen and Darius and Dante and youngest brother DaeShaun. Janeen eventually underwent surgery and six weeks of treatments, including radiation, and was at Fairmont Senior High for the announcement on Thursday.
In fact, she played a centralized part. When Stills made his decision, he did so at the end of a pep rally prior to the Polar Bears’ opening game against Robert C. Byrd High. Janeen was there, holding a bag with the famous hat and tissue paper in various colors – including those of Oklahoma and Florida, WVU’s fellow finalists. When an orange piece of paper fell out of the bag just before the hat emerged, the crowd gasped. Gary, Dante’s father, held still.
Then the old gold and blue, with the trademark Flying WV, was pulled and placed firmly on Dante’s head. Gary rushed from the side of the stage and embraced Dante while the student body cheered.
“His dad wanted it to be a surprise,” Janeen said. “It was hard for me to keep it from Gary because I’d call and say ‘Dante is stressed out. He is going back and forth here.’ In his heart, his family is here, but you always have the coaches who make it like something is better (elsewhere). I said no matter where you go, you are gonna do good. He’s my protector. He’s worried about me and the little one. He’s big time on family, and they kept me busy. That kept me going.”
The decision was in limbo until six days ago, when Dante decided on Aug. 18. He told a handful of people, including the WVU coaches, along with Darius, Janeen and his maternal grandmother.
“He wouldn’t tell us until Friday,” Janeen said. “I said ‘What is it?’ And he told us and of course we were happy. It was a hard secret to keep. I had a lot of people asking me clear up until we got here.”
It has been a long road, in many ways. And now that Dante has finished one portion of it, there’s another awaiting just 20 miles north in Morgantown.
“It’s the place to be,” Dante said of his decision to attend WVU. “I feel like I belong there. I feel 100 percent confident in my decision, and I’m very blessed. I could never leave family. It’s hard to be 15, 17 hours away. I am very thankful because it was a very stressful decision. There were times I had no idea and I had to make a decision soon because my whole plan was to commit before the season.
“I’m trying to ball out with my teammates this year. I don’t want to worry about all of the recruiting. I’m very confident in my decision. (WVU) is the place to be. I know them like family. I know Dana, I know Gibby, I know Bruce (Tall, WVU’s defensive line coach). I can go up there anytime and see Darius and talk to them. I am very comfortable there.”
Besides a Class AA state title for Fairmont Senior, what are the goals over the next year?
“Try to compete as much as I can and earn my spot,” Dante said. “I’ve had to sacrifice hanging out with friends. I went out to my dad’s the whole summer, went to Kansas City to compete. Went to Oregon, Indianapolis to compete. I’ve been seeing a lot of guys leave the state and I think you should represent your state as much as possible, and I think I’m going to do that.”