ORLANDO, Fla. – It is the finite nature of college football that accounts for its heightened emotion.
For each individual player, the window is always four years. Sometimes less. There is always a definitive ending from which there is no return. On Friday night, several Mountaineers reflected on reaching the end of their paths while another contemplated whether his had also reached its conclusion.
“It is hard to reflect on that right now so soon after a loss,” senior receiver David Sills said minutes after West Virginia’s 34-18 loss to Syracuse. “But, you know, my goal after this game was to leave my mark on West Virginia.”
That mission was certainly accomplished. In three years as a Mountaineer, Sills ranks second on the school list with 35 receiving touchdowns and ninth with 2,007 receiving yards.
“He’s left his mark on the program,” said coach Dana Holgorsen. “He’s going to play for a long time, too, so we certainly appreciate him as well.”
Sills’ West Virginia story is more unique than most, having featured a sophomore year pit stop at a junior college in an attempt to play quarterback before making his return. But it’s also what makes him more appreciative of the experience – and more saddened by its ending.
“I think they gave — I know they gave — me an opportunity,” Sills said. “I tried to make the most of it. And I appreciate everything from this university, you know, this state and the coaching staff and team. You know, they trusted in me. I had a wild story kind of getting to where I am now, but they trusted in me and I owe it all to them.”
It wasn’t just players who arrived as freshmen like Sills that were appreciative of what West Virginia offered them. Defensive lineman Jabril Robinson had only one year as a Mountaineer after transferring from Clemson.
Robinson was the lone player to walk from the locker room with his helmet in tucked closely under his arm – a keepsake he did not want to relinquish.
“Because of the memories,” Robinson said.
Even though he won a national championship as a backup at Clemson, Robinson said it’s his experience in Morgantown that really sticks with him.
“This year I was able to teach the young ones. I was able to help this team,” Robinson said. “I was able to put my heart in something that I really loved. Mountaineer football is a little different. It’s been nothing but love since Day 1. I’m glad I got the opportunity to come here and meet the people I met as far as young defensive linemen and have the opportunity to work with them.”
And then there was the Mountaineer who looked as if he played his final game, though he’s not yet finalized that decision. Linebacker David Long could return for a fifth year, but logic says leaving for the NFL would be a reasonable decision for the Big 12 defensive player of the year.
Long spoke of how difficult it was to play with his senior teammates for the final time, though he may well have been talking about all of them.
“It was hard, especially when the time was running down,” Long said. “I was looking into my brothers’ eyes knowing it was the last one. It didn’t come out the way we wanted it to. But that’s life.”