Last fall, Dante Stills wanted the 2020 college football season to be his last playing for West Virginia. Stills was sure he would leave after the season and go to the NFL.
“My main goal going into my junior year was pretty much I wanted to leave,” Stills told reporters Wednesday afternoon. “I wanted to be a three-year-and-out guy.”
As fate would have it, Stills is back in Morgantown this spring, not training in preparation for the NFL draft, but in preparation for the 2021 college football season. While his older brother, Darius, declared for this summer’s draft and is almost a sure pick, Dante is back practicing with the Mountaineers.
Dante and Darius have played next to one another for as long as they have played football. The only year the two were apart was 2017 when Dante was in his final year at Fairmont Senior and Darius was a freshman at WVU. Dante was sure the two would leave for the NFL together following the 2020 season, but a down year constituted a change of plans.
“Throughout the  season, I wasn’t performing at the level I thought,” Dante said. “People thought I did good, but my stats weren’t showing it.”
Stills finished 2020 with 35 total tackles, a new career-high, and a solid 10.5 tackles for loss, but his sack production dropped from seven in 2019 to just two last season. While some players prolonged their decision about whether or not to come back for 2021, Stills announced his intention to return even before the Mountaineers’ played their bowl game at the end of December.
“I just felt like I didn’t do as much as I needed to to be at that level that Darius is going to,” Dante said. “I thought it was best for me to stay another year and work so I’m able to be at that level next year.”
Coming back to WVU for another season, Stills said he is ready to take on a new role as well. One of three seniors along West Virginia’s defensive line, Stills said he wants to become more of a leader this year.
“I’ve definitely gotten into that role,” he said. “I’ve played the last three seasons and I’ve always had that type of guidance [from older players] throughout my years. Throughout my years I’ve learned off them how to be vocal and just be there for my [younger] guys. I like being in this role, 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.”
Always playing with his older brother, Dante has not always had the opportunity, or the need, to be in a leadership role. Dante said not having Darius to lean on next season will force him to become an even better leader.
“Darius was the guy always in my ear talking and making sure I’m focused and ready to go,” Dante said. “[Needing to do that myself] helps me be a leader because you’ve got to lead yourself before you can lead others.”
At the same time, Dante said he cannot think of Darius’s absence as some sort of vacancy that he needs to fill.
“I can’t think of it like he’s not here,” Dante said. “If I think of it like that, it’s going to turn completely sideways. I’ve just got to remain focused and be the leader for my guys right now.”
— WVU Football (@WVUfootball) April 7, 2021
While preparing for next season, Dante’s dreams still involve making it to the NFL. He said watching Darius go through that process right now has been a big help for him.
“What I’ve noticed throughout this whole thing is his patience,” Dante said. “It’s all about controlling what you can control. After your pro day, you have no control over when you’re going to get picked or by what team. As of right now, I’m learning from him just to be patient.
“I know all the stuff he’s going through and he’s very excited about it so I’ve just got to be there to support him,” Dante continued. “For me, I’ve just got to play my game. I know Darius is going to handle his business and Darius knows I’m going to handle my business.”
As of right now, Darius is still around the WVU program, training ahead of the NFL draft, so Dante stills sees him often. When Darius gets drafted and leaves for the NFL, Dante said it will be different to not have him around, but Dante hopes to be in his same shoes this time next year.
“Once he leaves it’s definitely going to be different because I’ve been so used to living with him and being around him my whole life,” Dante said. “I’m definitely hoping I’m in his position one day.”