MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — When the 2020 college football season began, Dante Stills had it in his mind that would be his final run in a West Virginia uniform. With his brother Darius Stills currently preparing for the NFL draft, the younger Stills thought and hoped he’d be in a similar position.
“My main goal going into my junior year was pretty much I want to leave,” Dante Stills said. “I wanted to be that dude that was able to go three (years) and out. But throughout the season, I wasn’t performing at the level I thought. People thought I did well, but my stats weren’t showing it and that’s kind of a big deal. Stats show how much you’re doing throughout the year and I felt I didn’t do as much as I needed to be at that level Darius is going to next year.”
Darius Stills was last season’s Big 12 Conference defensive lineman of the year and he’s hoping to hear his name called over the three-day draft that begins April 29.
That leaves the 6-foot-4, 276-pound Dante Stills readying for his first season with the Mountaineers without his brother as a teammate.
In addition to leaving big shoes to fill along the defensive line, it’s a position Stills hasn’t found himself in since he began his decorated career at Fairmont Senior High School in 2014. The Stills brothers had been teammates for each of Dante’s last seven seasons playing football.
“He’s here right now, so I’m around him,” Stills said. “But once he leaves, it’s definitely going to be different. I’ve been so used to living with him and being around him my whole life. But I know he knows that it’s a business and a job. He knows I’m going to handle my business and I know he’s going to handle his business.”
After a season in which Dante Stills was an All-Big 12 honorable mention pick while posting a team-high 10.5 tackles for loss and leading all WVU defensive lineman with 35 stops, he’s looking for more.
“I can’t think of it like he’s not here, because if I think of it like that, it’s going to turn completely sideways,” Stills said. “I have to remain focused and be the leader for my guys right now and be able to win.”
It was only three seasons ago when Stills was a freshman All-American by several national circuits, which he followed with a seven-sack campaign that saw him earn second-team all-conference honors as a sophomore. Now he’s juggling the responsibility of being a leader on the field as well as away from it.
“I like being in this role and who doesn’t want to be a leader? I’ve always wanted to be a leader and this is my opportunity since I’m technically the old guy now,” Stills said. “It definitely feels weird because I was never really the old guy throughout my years.”
Part of Stills’ role as a leader is continuing to work with and provide guidance to fellow defensive lineman, including sophomore Akheem Mesidor.
Much like Stills, Mesidor had a freshman season to remember after finishing with five sacks and 6.5 TFLs.
“He’s a big baller,” Stills said. “I was a freshman All American and he asked me how many sacks I had my freshman year. I told him I only had three and he was going to beat that record, and he did easy. As a freshman, you’re nervous and I told him, ‘You have no reason to be nervous. You have all the talent in the world, you have to go out there and play.’ This year, he’s an even better player, so it’s going to be very exciting for sure.”
While working with new defensive line coach Andrew Jackson throughout spring football, the Mountaineers’ front has been asked to increase their versatility and understand multiple positions.
“Our coaches are moving us all around so we know all the positions very well. In a game, you never know when someone might go down or someone might be done at any point,” Stills said. “You have to know every position you’re taught.”
In the meantime, Stills continues to keep a close eye on his brother as the two hope to follow in the footsteps of their father Gary Stills, who played nine seasons in the NFL following a storied three-year career at WVU.
“It’s all about controlling what you can control,” Stills said. “After pro day, you have no control of when you’re going to be picked or what team. I’m learning off (my brother) to be patient. If people call, make sure you answer correctly and answer with honesty. Every day he talks to people and I listen sometimes.
“But for him, he still works out throughout the day. You have to keep working out and keep in shape. I’m definitely hoping I’m in his position one day.”