Dante Stills’ WVU comeback rooted in old school values | WVU | West Virginia Mountaineers Sports Coverage
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — It doesn’t matter where you get your news — social media, newspapers, radio, TV, your next door neighbor or the guy sitting next to you at the bar.
If you’re talking about sports, it’s a never-ending stream of criticism on the transfer portal or about players leaving teams early to enter the NFL, NBA or MLB Draft. Criticism is often venomous in nature, vilifying players who a month or two earlier were heroes in its eyes.
But every now and then someone comes along who understands what college sports is, how it’s there for the fans, for the city, for the state, for the school, and for them. He does not offer the pot of gold that is used to induce them to make the decision to leave or simply to give them more game time, game time that they have not earned elsewhere.
There’s this player who loves his condition, his team and his family and understands that it’s not always about him, a player who doesn’t want to take the next step until he’s really ready.
In those parts of the world, that player is West Virginia All-Big 12 defensive tackle Dante Stills, who stunned nearly everyone this year when he decided to return for his super senior season, an extra year brought on by the COVID pandemic.
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While everyone thought the Guaranteed Rate Bowl against Minnesota would be his last collegiate game, Stills hinted before the game that he was hesitant.
“I have yet to figure this out. I still think. It’s going to be personal because I know in my four years I’ve done some damage, but if it wasn’t good enough then I have to step it up. It will be very personal if I have to come back,” he said.
So many things were going through his head.
His brother, Darius, had come out after his senior year and entered the draft and was passed over. Could it have affected him?
He is close to his mother. Could she have played a role? He’s a West Virginia. How could that come in? His team had failed to live up to expectations, leading him to admit there was unfinished business.
And his game. Was he ready for the NFL? He felt he had to study this.
And so, on Saturday, he laid out the emotions, the thoughts, the processes he went through in deciding to delay entering the NFL and trying to bring his college career to a proper end. It all started in the movie theater.
“I went back and watched all my own footage of the whole game,” he revealed. “I did my own self-assessment and thought, ‘I could have done better here, here, here and here.’ What the scouts told me matched what I was looking at.
“I needed to become more consistent and run for the ball more often every play. I wasn’t doing that. You see the sacks, the TFLs and think, ‘He’s good enough, but there’s a lot more stats in a game they want me not to show.”
Did Darius’ experience play a role in the decision?
“No, but yes,” he said. “What I got from the scouts showed what it showed. In my mind, I wanted to come in (to the draft) differently, in a different way.
It was amazing, really, to see how analytically he went about it, changing his attitude.
“At the beginning of my senior year, I wanted to leave,” he admitted. “Things are changing. Now I’m back, having fun with my guys, joking, clowning around with my boys at spring prom. But, it’s a business here, it’s a business with the NFL You can do it with the NFL, but anytime you can leave.
There was another change during the year, the growth of NIL and the ability to earn money playing college football, getting a car, representing a restaurant, making appearances.
“The NIL has nothing to do with it. Zero. I just thought coming back was the best choice,” he said.
So how did he approach it?
Him, his father, Gary, a decade-long NFL veteran and one of the WVU’s all-time great defensemen; his mother, he and Neal Brown got together and met.
“My mother didn’t care what decision I made. She understood the idea was to take it to the next level, but she loved that I came back so you could be here with me again,” he said.
And what did Brown have to say. Did he try to convince him to stay?
“Getting off the ball, making sure I’m getting my technique right. I’m playing smarter this year rather than just running around,” Stills explained. “I know where the parts are going, where I have to go. I know all the positions on the D line, all the technique.
“I want to be more consistent. I feel like I can sack and make big plays, way more than I did, and it’s all about that.
“On decisions like that, I stay out,” Brown said. “All I do is present data. Our role as a coach is to present the data we get. Myself and our scouting department and through various connections in the National Football League, we try to present the data as it is given to us.
“I’m not involved in the NFL. I don’t claim to know how they rate guys for the draft, but we
can ask questions and we know enough people attached to the All-Star games and the NFL to give a
a pretty good representation of where we think he could potentially go.
“We went through the screenings and what the scouts said about me and we took all of that into account.
consideration,” Stills said. “At the end of the day, they all wanted me to do what I wanted to do. They all trusted me.”
They were right because Stills approached it analytically.
“Hearing the comments, watching the movie, I felt like I had to come back to prove myself for another year,” he said.
Stills understood that the NFL is a different world.
“Bags don’t matter to them. It all depends on how you play…footwork, hand placement, consistency, clearing blocks – very important – and returning while watching the movie, I didn’t do that. There were games where if I had made them, it could have changed the game,” he said.
After the meeting, Brown told her to “do whatever you want to do.” I completely agree. If you want to leave, that’s OK. If you want to stay, I think that’s great.
Stills didn’t rush to make a decision.
“I talked to some people for a few days,” he said. “And I wanted to be with me and review my own thoughts.”
And one thought was always there, and that was that his time at WVU wasn’t complete.
“I think West Virginia deserves a championship,” he said. “I grew up here and I’ve seen a lot of greats come through here. I want to feel like we were finally champions. We haven’t had that feeling for a while last year, we lost in a bowling game. We didn’t have a great record. This year, it’s about improving that.