In terms of West Virginia’s in-state talent, Darius Stills has been one of the absolute best players to come from the Mountain State in recent years. That Stills decided to stay close to home and play for WVU makes his career all the more meaningful for Mountaineer fans.
The Fairmont native will play his final college game Thursday in a matchup against Army in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, and with that final game now in sight, Stills — who will declare for the NFL Draft following this season— said it has not been as emotional for him as some might expect.
More than it being his final college game, Stills said he has been thinking of it as the last game he will get to play next to his younger brother, Dante.
“It’s emotional but at the same time, I know I’ve got more football to play so it’s not hitting me as hard,” Darius Stills said Sunday. “I think of it not so much as my last college game but kind of like my last game with Dante that’s guaranteed.”
“We’ve definitely talked about it a lot,” Dante Stills said earlier this month. “I’ve played with him my whole life so just knowing this is our last couple of games, it sucks. It’s emotional.”
The Stills brothers came to WVU from Fairmont Senior High School — a mid-sized school with a rich athletic history roughly 20 miles from West Virginia’s Morgantown campus — in 2017 and 2018. Coming out in 2017, Darius was by no means viewed as a top-end, can’t-miss recruit. The elder Stills brother was rated as a three-star recruit and had a modest offer sheet with WVU, Rutgers, Appalachian State, Akron, Kent State, Liberty and Massachusetts as his only scholarship offers.
Now, Stills will leave WVU as one of the program’s most accomplished defensive players this century.
The senior was named this season’s Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year to go along with First-Team All-Big 12 honors and inclusion on several All-American lists. Although his stats have dipped from a year ago (6.5 tackles for loss this season, 14.5 in 2019), Stills has been playing the best football of his career according to WVU coach Neal Brown.
“What has been really rewarding for me as a coach, if you look at his stats, his stats really aren’t as good as they were a year ago,” Brown explained. “But within the scheme of the defense and overall as a football player, he’s played much better… I don’t think his statistics are telling the story and I’m happy he’s getting rewarded for his level of play, not necessarily his numbers.”
“Darius is great proof that this state produces high-level players,” Brown said. “If you look at him, he’s been defensive lineman of the year in the Big 12, he’s been on All-American teams, he’s got a tremendous amount of recognition.”
Brown said Darius is a player who people will be able to look up to as proof and inspiration that athletes from West Virginia can succeed at the highest levels of competition.
For Stills, that is exactly the kind of legacy he is looking to leave.
“We’re just as good as anybody else, there’s just not as many of us,” Stills said of West Virginia football players. “I’m proof there are ballers here, you’ve just got to find them. Just because we’re not from Florida or Texas or California doesn’t mean we can’t play ball. We’ve got Randy Moss, a Hall of Famer out of West Virginia, Ryan Switzer, we have a lot of people. I want to be one of those people they name also, that’s my dream.”
Players like Stills, who seems destined for the NFL but whose team is not playing in a high-profile postseason game, have been opting out of bowl games more and more frequently in recent years. WVU’s own Will Grier opted out of the Camping World Bowl in 2018 and All-Big 12 linebacker Tony Fields II will not be playing in the Liberty Bowl this season. However, Stills said playing in WVU’s bowl game this season was not even a decision for him.
“I love football, I’ll play as much football as I can, anytime, anywhere,” Stills explained. “If I have an opportunity to play another game, especially with my teammates and my brother, I’m going to play, no questions about it. I respect everybody’s decisions regardless because I don’t know what situations they have but for me, I have one more game left to play with my brother so I’m going to do it and I’m going to have fun.”