WVU’s Dante Stills Doesn’t Look Like A Normal Freshman
There are freshmen and then there are fresh MEN and in the case of Dante Stills, he is both the former and the latter.
Academically, having had only part of a summer since his graduation from Fairmont Senior, where he was considered one of the top defensive line prospects in the country, he has just entered the world of college.
Athletically, he always has been a man among boys.
When he arrived on campus, carrying 292 well-defined pounds, much of which he put on since playing his last high school football and basketball games to ready himself to not only join his brother, Darius, on the West Virginia football team, but to become an instant contributor, eyes popped at his presence.
And when he took those 292 pounds out onto the playing field, he showed no signs of it slowing him down in any regard, but simply enhancing the God-given gifts he had inherited from his and Darius’s father, WVU all-time great linebacker Gary Stills.
“When a guy walks in and looks like that, that’s what you are looking for. That’s what they are supposed to look like,” Bruce Tall, West Virginia’s veteran defensive line coach, said.
“He’s different,” continued defensive coordinator Tony Gibson. “I haven’t seen a freshman like that on the d-line walk through these doors in a long time. In my 13 years here, I’d be hard-pressed to say we’ve ever had one like that.
“He’s 292 pounds and moves like he’s 240.”
In many ways, the younger of the Stills brother may be the solution to the biggest problem West Virginia’s maligned defense had last season.
They just weren’t what they had to be up front, ineffective for the most part against the run and in the pass rush.
And, to complicate matters, freshman Lamonte McDougle, who was named to ESPN’s freshman All-America team, transferred away, which forced WVU to do a lot of scrambling, moving Darius Stills to the nose and bringing in graduate transfer Kenny Bigelow from USC, where he once was a 5-star recruit, but now plays without many of the original parts in his knees.
So far, Bigelow has held up well and been impressive both as a player and leader, which allows Gibson the freedom to play both Stills and Bigelow less snaps and keep them fresh and take some of the wear off the transfer’s knees.
Make no doubt about the younger Stills, Dante, and his chances of playing right away.
He is the real deal, the kind of kid you don’t expect to find 15 or so miles from campus in West Virginia, one who has the nation’s top schools and their recruiters converging on Fairmont.
“This is all I know after four days in shorts: He’s going to play,” Gibson said. “Is he going to start? Maybe. Is he going to play 50 snaps a game? Maybe. Is he going to play 25 a game? Maybe.
“But he is going to play, he’s in our plans, and we’ve got to get him ready.”
That, of course, falls upon Tall’s shoulders and he certainly is prepared for such a task.
The off-season goal was to build a bigger, better defensive line and they have done that by having players such as in-state defensive end Reese Donahue gain weight, having junior college transfer Ezekiel Rose, a pleasant surprise when given a chance last year as he won a starting job, get bigger and gain more knowledge and by bringing in Stills, Bigelow and, from Clemson, another potential star in graduate transfer Jabril Robinson.
“We have a very interesting room,” Tall admitted, speaking of the defensive line position room. “We were fortunate to get two graduate transfers. We had some guys who played significantly. Then we have young guys who have to bring along and they have.”
There are so many to focus on that it is almost as if you were dealing with high-publicity running backs or wide receivers.
Clemson and USC graduate transfers, the always bubbling Rose … but the real center of attention falls upon Dante Stills, and to a lesser degree but not a less meaningful degree, his brother Darius.
Tall is overjoyed at what he has in those two players.
“They are like twins,” Tall said. “They are as good a brothers as there are. They cheer for each other. They are each other’s biggest cheerleader. That’s why they are roommates right now. That’s how tight they are.
“They care. They genuinely care.”
Tall’s relationship with them is different than with the normal young players who come into the program.
Tall says that while he spoke with Gary Stills about them, he has never asked for any advice on how to handle them or what buttons to push when they need such treatment … mainly because he feels he knows them so well.
“I have been really fortunate because they’ve come to camp here. I’ve around them more than any players who have ever come into the program, so I have a feeling for their differences,” he said.
“The NCAA cuffs you during the year, but right now I can take time with Dante,” Tall said. “I can grab him at breakfast and talk to him. He understands there’s a plan and that he’s got to work through the process to utilize his plan. And he understands we coach ‘em hard here.
“My philosophy is with younger guys is you got to be held accountable. You have to understand the demands of this defense. They have to be ready to play.”
And all indications are that the Stills brothers will reach that point by the Sept. 1 opener against Tennessee in Charlotte.