West Virginia senior defensive lineman Darius Stills doesn’t have a “go-to” move in his repertoire. Instead, it’s more of a “go-to” attitude.
“My favorite move is to be violent,” Stills said when asked what he relies upon to get past opposing offensive linemen, who often significantly outweigh him. “I don’t have a specific move, it’s just doing anything you need to do. It could be power, arm over, swim move, a trap, a rip, all types of things. I just focus on trying to track the ball.”
Not having a favorite technique probably works in Stills’ favor, as it doesn’t allow opposing offensive linemen to watch for a particular maneuver. Instead, he can apply his forceful approach, along with good quickness, to try to get the penetration that he and his fellow linemates are looking for in the Mountaineer defensive system.
That versatility extends to West Virginia’s approach to defensive play this spring, wherein the Mountaineer coaching staff has been moving and cross-training a number of defenders at different positions.
Up front, there’s the nose tackle, which plays head up or in the gap on either side of the center. There are defensive tackles, who can shade anywhere from the guard to the inside of the offensive tackle, and ends, who can line up outside the opposing tackle and attack the edge.
Typically, the interior linemen are a bit shorter, more densely built and stronger, while outside spots go to those with quicker bursts and longer frames. However, WVU has been working a number of linemen at different spots, including Stills and Akheem Mesidor both on the edge and inside. Bandits Lanell Carr and Taurus Simmons have been moved to end, in the hopes that more depth can help WVU weather the loss of Dante’s brother Darius. Jalen Thornton and Sean Martin are others who have been listed as seeing action at different postings.
“I like it a lot. it shows how versatile our d-line can be,” Dante said. “Our coaches have us playing from the five [to the zero technique], so we are getting to move all around. In a game you never know when someone might go down, or you might just get thrown into the game at any point.”
Having multiple players who can play the nose also has the benefit of helping wear and tear, which can accumulate late in the season. Of course, performance has to be at a certain level for that strategy to work, and the practice against different linemen at different spots can help in that preparation.
“As of right now, we are going up against the same guys, but in a game it will be different,” Stills said of the benefits of moving around. “I’ve gone up against every o-linemen we have. It’s a great tool to help them, and it helps me a lot too.”
Stills considered leaving West Virginia for a shot at the NFL Draft after the 2020 season – a plan that he had in place when coming to WVU.
“My goal was to be a three-year guy,” he admitted. “But through (my junior) season, I wasn’t performing at that level. People thought I did good, but my stats weren’t showing it. I felt like I didn’t do it to be at the level that Darius is going to. So I thought it was better for me to stay another year and work so I can be at that level next year.”
Such a level of self-awareness is becoming more rare in today’s world. Dante likely benefited from the presence of Darius, who chose a similar path and returned for a senior season in 2020 prior to beginning the draft process. The two still see and speak with each other every day, as Darius is in Morgantown and continuing to work out while awaiting the NFL Draft on April 29. That, along with his interactions with other former teammates, has helped Danet grow in his leadership role this year.
“I’ve had that guidance through my years,” Dante detailed. “Reese (Donahue), Zeke (Ezekiel Rose), I learned off them how to be vocal and be there for my guys. I like being in this role – I’ve always wanted to be a leader.”
He’s firmly in that role now, and will be on his own when Darius departs for whatever team selects him.
“He is here right now, but when he leaves it will be different. I know all things he’s going through, and I will be there to support him. I know he’s going to handle his business, and he knows I will handle my business. But I can’t think of it like, ‘He’s not here.’ I have to remain focused and be the leader for my guys.”