Dante Stills Ready To Make A Big Splash At WVU
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – If you hear Dante Stills tell it, he just dipped his toe in the major college football pool last year. This season he plans to take the full plunge.
It’s not that the Fairmont, West Virginia, wasn’t an impact player in 2018. He was the rare true freshman defensive lineman to immediately work his way into the rotation. He played in all 12 of WVU’s games in last year, recording 16 tackles with six and a half going for lost yardage. Three of those were sacks.
He was good enough to be named a freshman all-American by both The Athletic and ESPN.com. The sophomore, who is now 6-foot-3 and 292 pounds, feels like he just scratched the surface, though.
“I think I can get a whole lot better,” explained the Fairmont Senior High alum. “The experience I gained last year should help me a great deal in the future.”
The son of Janeen Floyd and Gary Stills, Dante was major recruit for the Mountaineers as part of the class of 2018. A three-time Class AA first-team all-state honoree, he was a four-star recruit who was offered by the likes of Florida, Oklahoma, Georgia, Penn State and about any other college that pumped up a football.
Dante decided stay home, though, moving 30 minutes up the road from Fairmont to Morgantown, where he joined his older brother, Darius, who is also a defensive lineman at WVU.
His first season would be viewed as a huge success by most anyone, but Dante feels he can do even better. He notes that improvement starts in the weight room.
“Since I got here, I‘ve gained about 20 pounds,” Stills explained. “(WVU strength coach) Mike Joseph and his crew are the best in the business. I got bigger, strong, faster, more disciplined, more mature. I feel that two or three more years in this program will get me really right.”
Dante was always a multi-sport athlete in the past. Not only was he an outstanding football player at Fairmont Senior, helping the Polar Bears to runner-up spots in Class AA playoffs in both 2016 and ’17, but he also was a key force in the paint for the FSHS basketball team that won the Class AA state championship in 2016 and ’17 and finished as runners-up in 2018.
This past winter was the first time in many years that Stills has not been on the hardwood. Instead he used his time in WVU’s offseason strength and conditioning program with Joseph leading up to his first-ever first spring football practice.
“It was different, because I never went through spring practice before. I liked it a lot,” Stills said. “I got to compete during the fall, but this was my first full spring.
“I feel like I’ve gotten better,” the athletic coaching major added. “Reese Donahue is a senior, and he’s played a great deal in his career. We’re both at the same position, and he’s helping me a lot, but we’re also both pushing each other. That competition is making us both better.”
Dante often lines up beside his brother, who has emerged as WVU’s starting nose guard this spring. Darius, who is a 6-foot-1 and 290-pound junior, wasn’t as heavily recruited as Dante coming out of high school, but he quickly proved himself as a top-flight defensive lineman once he got to West Virginia. He also played as a true freshman in 2017. Then as a sophomore last year, he was a regular in the Mountaineers’ defensive rotation. He finished 2018 with 12 tackles and one sack in 12 games. Now even more is going to be expected of him as he’s progressed into a starting role.
“Darius is an animal,” smiled Dante. “A lot of people have been doubting him since we were little, and he’s been proving people wrong. He has the mentality that he’s going to run through you.”
The Stills brothers, whose father Gary was an outstanding rush linebacker at WVU (1996-98) and then went on to spend nine seasons in the NFL, have been terrorizing the opposition for many years, and now they appear ready to unleash their wrath in full force on the Big 12.
“My brother and I have been on the same team pretty much our whole lives, other than a year or two,” noted Dante, who is 19 months younger than Darius. “Now being in college together and playing with each other, it feels natural again. It gives each of us motivation. If, say, I’m having a bad day, he can pick me up. I feed off him, and he feeds off me.”
With Darius anchoring the middle of West Virginia’s defensive line, and Donahue and Dante at defensive tackle, West Virginia’s coaches feel good about the top end of their d-line. They like the quality but want more when it comes to quantity.
Stone Wolfley had a strong spring game, and the senior is one of those likely to provide depth at defensive tackle, while senior Brenon Thrift and redshirt freshmen Tyrese Allen are competing to back up Darius at nose.
At the defensive end position, junior college transfer Taijh Alston spent most of the spring running with the first unit, followed by Jeffery Pooler, Quondarius Qualls and Tavis Lee. Dante Stills can also move out to defensive end if needed.
Put it all together and Dante is confident that West Virginia’s defensive line will be capable of being a strength come fall.
“I think we’re really strong in all our spots,” he said. “We’re going to be all right.”