Heart says QB, but Sills’ path seems locked in at receiver


MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — David Sills acutely recognizes how circumstances shift and decisions don’t necessarily stand. The 13-year-old who famously stepped out of a middle-school study hall to accept Lane Kiffin’s scholarship offer was only a high school junior when USC fired Kiffin, essentially drying up that opportunity.

New scenario, new outlook, new direction. After several West Virginia coaches devoted months to making him their top quarterback target, Sills landed in Morgantown.

Thing is, one of those coaches, Shannon Dawson, left for Kentucky just as Sills was enrolling. And a year later, another one of his primary recruiters, Lonnie Galloway, now works for Louisville. At least Dana Holgorsen is still around, but even the head coach potentially redirected the kid’s career midseason in 2015—make that mid-redshirt season—by suggesting he try catching passes instead of throwing them.

Recruited as a quarterback, West Virginia’s David Sills caught the go-ahead 15-yard touchdown against Arizona State in the Cactus Bowl on Jan. 2.

The experiment took and Sills, after only a few practices at receiver, snagged a 35-yard touchdown over tight sideline coverage in his first college action at Baylor.

Over the next seven weeks he experienced drops, fatigued legs and games where he wasn’t targeted at all, yet when the season closed with a late-night game-winner at the Cactus Bowl, Sills sounded OK with the course that unfolded.

Even if it included an awkward postgame photo op in the Chase Field end zone.

“I was talking to my parents when a reporter asked if I wanted to see a picture of where my cleat took up the turf,” Sills said. “I’m thinking to myself it’s not that big of a deal, but my mom just starts freaking out and saying ‘Go take a picture! Go take a picture!’ So I went to take a picture. Always gotta do what mom says.”

There’s not a speck of resentment or regret when Sills recounts trading in his full redshirt season of quarterback development for a half-season of pitching in at receiver. (Remember, he caught only seven passes.) Neither does he display trepidation over the positional timeshare that continues this spring.

“My heart is at quarterback. That is what I want to do, that is what I came here to play,” he says. “In the meantime I’m playing a lot of receiver right now, because I want to help the team out in any possible, but I’m still going to work on my quarterback craft.”

That work includes refining his from-the-ear throwing motion, a mechanical makeover certainly slowed by splitting reps at receiver. During last week’s first extended spring scrimmage, he worked exclusively at wideout. On Saturday, when snow forced the team indoors and scrapped plans for more full-contact periods, Sills handled some quarterback reps.

The sense is he’d be the fourth option at quarterback next season, taking snaps only under the most desperate of contingency plans should injuries pile up like they did at Kansas State in 2015. Otherwise, Sills remains in the rotation at outside receiver, working alongside deep threats Shelton Gibson and Ka’Raun White.

David Sills says playing quarterback remains “the ultimate goal,” even though he’s the fourth option currently with Florida transfer Will Grier coming aboard in 2017.

The kid Kiffin pursued could not have fathomed lining up at a position requiring acceleration and agility.

“When I got offered by USC I wasn’t fast and I couldn’t jump,” Sills recalls. “I was just a pocket passer.”

His current West Virginia roomie Daikiel Shorts, a teammate back at Eastern Christian Academy, can hardly believe the transformation himself: “When I first met him, he wasn’t very athletic. He was just a quarterback and that’s it.”

As Sills’ college path changed, so did his skill set. By the start of his senior season at ECA he was scrambling away from blitzes and high-jumping defenders at the pylon. “I guess I just grew into my body.”

He flashed wheels during scout-team reps last August when he portrayed Georgia Southern’s option quarterback. The hops showed weeks later when Sills mimicked Oklahoma State’s 6-foot-4 receiver Marcell Ateman.

Suddenly, the you-ought-to-be-a-receiver kidding from coaches turned serious when Holgorsen suggested a position switch. He did so while pledging that Sills could return to playing quarterback after the season.

“Quarterback, that’s the ultimate goal,” Sills reiterates. “But if it’s not the reality, we’ll think forward and more long-term about playing receiver.”

His heart remains at quarterback. Thing is, hearts and circumstances, they’re always changing.

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