Dante Stills is the unquestioned leader of the defensive side of the ball for the West Virginia Mountaineers. Stills has played since his freshman year in 2018 and played along side his brother Darius in 2018-2020 before Darius graduated and signed an undrafted free agent contract in the NFL, despite a senior season that saw him earn All-American honors.
Dante, who was widely expected to be selected in the NFL Draft this April, squashed those thoughts when he announced that he would be returning for his final COVID-senior year after the bowl game.
I got the data from the coaches and then I went back and watched my own film. I did my own self-evaluation and I was like, I could have done something better here, here, and here. What the scouts were telling me was matching up with what I watched and I just need to be more consistent. Run to the ball every play which I wasn’t doing. People always see the sacks, the TFLs and stuff like that and think he’s good enough but there’s a lot more to it than that in the game that they want that I didn’t show. So, this year, it’s all about that.
Dante had his best statistical year last year when he collected 35 tackles, 7 sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception and while those numbers are good for a defensive tackle, they aren’t All-American worthy nor were they game changing. When I looked at the defensive stats as a whole, I found that the defense held teams to about 30 yards less than their season total but teams were able to pass the ball as well as they typically do on the season.
Stills recounted some tough losses, noting a loss to Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, games where the Mountaineers felt they were in the game and a couple plays in the other direction could have turned the season. This has been a line echoed throughout the team, from head coach Neal Brown, to defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley to now their defensive captain, Stills. That need and desire to make the plays that eluded the team last year is just another reason Stills chose to come back in 2022.
Stills’ thoughtful and candor was broached even further when he was asked if NIL played a part in his decision, which many speculated that it may have. Stills’, as the face of the defense and a local talent, would surely be the type of player West Virginia NIL opportunities would come for in droves.
“At the beginning of my senior year, I wanted to leave. That was the whole goal, but then, things chance. I’m having fun with my guys and having a great time during spring ball.”
“In the NFL, you can do that but its a whole different thing, they can [cut you at a moment’s notice and you’re] gone. The NIL had nothing to do with it”
In the three seasons that Neal Brown has been the head coach of the Mountaineers, defense has led the way for the team. The defense has been the higher ranked of the two sides of the ball and the Mountaineers have often had a chance in games they otherwise shouldn’t have, because in part of their defense. For Stills’, that motivation seems to be enough to come back and take the team to the level that every fan wants.
“I feel like West Virginia deserves a championship. That’s just how I feel. I grew up here and I’ve seen a lot of great [players] go through here and I want that. I want to have that feeling that we are finally champions. We haven’t had that feeling, just as an organization, in a while. The way last year ended with a loss in the bowl game and wasn’t a great record, I feel like this year is about improving that.