Ups And Downs Part of Growth Process For Dante Stills
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Dante Stills came into West Virginia University from down the road in Fairmont with more stars attached to his recruiting resume than there are in clear summer night’s sky.
But while stars seem to hang weightlessly in the sky, when they are attached to a football player they can provide quite a load for him to carry in the form of expectations.
To the younger Stills brother’s credit, he came into the program with a head that fit easily into a helmet and with a penchant to learn and get better.
Perhaps he’d been tipped off by his famous father, Gary, one of the best pass rushers in school history and a long-time NFL player or by brother Darius, a year ahead of him, just how big the step is from Fairmont Senior High School to the Big 12.
One of the things those stars do, however, is make a coach anxious to get you on the field, especially when you had the defense Dana Holgorsen had last season and when thoughts of leaving to coach another program are dancing around in your head.
And so it was that Stills played as a true freshman and displayed the athletic ability everyone knew he possessed, but while new coach Neal Brown isn’t about to come out and openly say Holgorsen made a mistake by playing him, he admits he should have been given a redshirt last year.
His season has been of high highs and some not so high lows and so it was Brown was asked to assess how Dante Stills has held up against the powerful Oklahoma offense last weekend, even though for the third straight game he wasn’t credited with a tackle.
“He’s a work in progress,” Brown began. “If we were talking about Dante Stills as a redshirt freshman instead of as a sophomore it’s a whole different story. Does that make sense?”
Indeed it does. That would mean he would still have three years left at WVU instead of two and the visions of him improving yearly and becoming all he can be by his fifth year in school sometimes boggle the mind.
“I think of Dante a lot,” Brown continued. “He played more as the year went on last year but wasn’t really ‘the guy’ last year. This year he got to be ‘the guy’ for the first time so in my mind I think of him as a redshirt freshman even though he isn’t.
“There’s still some highs and lows. He played better against Oklahoma. He did not play his best against Texas and Iowa State but there was a reason. He got real sick against Texas but he played through it.
“Iowa State he was OK. He played better against Oklahoma — not as much production, but some of that had to do with what they were doing and some of it had to do with what we schematically were doing. Some of the things they did neutralized him.”
And Reese Donahue, in the same position and now realizing that as a senior that time is running out, has been playing great and cutting into Stills’ time on the field.
Brown sees the development in Stills but knows there’s nothing that can be done to rush it. You don’t paint a masterpiece in a day.
“He’s improving,” Brown said. “Everyone wants to snap their fingers and be an NFL player. I think he is developing and I am highly encouraged by his demeanor, his work ethic. He has matured as a person.
“He won his share and he lost his share. The better he gets — and a lot of that has to do with his physical development and getting to understand things better — the longer he is here, the more he is going to win against the top level guys in our conference.”
It’s part of the process of building going on throughout the Mountaineers. Players like Sam James, Briason Mays, Kerry Martin, Jordan Jefferson, Tykee Smith and Nicktroy Fortune all are in the growing process both physically, mentally and emotionally as they blossom through the years.