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LEVI BURNELL PHILLIPS, 69. Levi the quiet LEGEND. To West Virginia, he was a sports legend, but to many he was also a humanitarian committed t…

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Coaches, no matter what the sport, like to use the quote “iron sharpens iron.”

It’s become a commonly repeated phrase, but most may not realize its origin. It’s actually from the Bible (Proverbs 27:17) — “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens the face of his neighbor.”

I’ll leave the detailed interpretation of that verse up to Biblical scholars, but on the football field, it means good competition improves all involved.

For Mountaineer second-year freshman offensive lineman Zach Frazier and WVU fourth-year junior Dante Stills, their battles go back to their elementary school days, and each is better because of them.

“We played on the same peewee football team, the (FOP) Colts,” remembered Frazier of when he and Stills were youngsters in Fairmont, West Virginia.

“We didn’t play on the same middle school team; I missed him by a year,” Frazier, who is two years younger than Dante, continued. “Then I played with him again in high school (at Fairmont Senior). He definitely made me a lot better starting at a young age. Physically I wasn’t there at the time; he is two years older than me. He helped mold me, though, and helped make me better.”

Though their time didn’t coincide at West Fairmont Middle School, Frazier and Stills were teammates both for those youth league Colts and then again at Fairmont Senior High School. They were key components in helping create a powerhouse at FSHS, as the Polar Bears have advanced to at least the semifinal round of the Class AA state playoffs every year since 2015.

As teammates in 2016 and 2017, Stills and Frazier led Fairmont Senior to the championship game each season, though it fell short both times — to Mingo Central, 32-7, in ‘16 and to Bluefield, 29-26, in ‘17. Stills moved up the road to WVU after the 2017 campaign, but Frazier remained with the Polar Bears for two more years, guiding them to the 2018 state title (FSHS’s first on the football field in 70 years) with a 23-13 with over Bluefield and then a semifinal spot in 2019.

Their individual battles during Fairmont Senior practices — when each was a two-way lineman — sharpened the skills and competitiveness of both.

“I was a junior in high school when he was a freshman, and he was as strong as me and Darius (the elder of the Stills brothers) and all the older guys,” recalled Dante. “We were like, ‘This dude is not human!’ He was a big guy, and he was abnormally strong, even when he was young.”

Certainly, the sibling competition between Dante and Darius, who is now with the Las Vegas Raiders, helped push the Stills brothers to a high level. But the daily practice matchups, first in high school and now in college, between Dante and Zach have also improved both.

“Every day we compete, and we make each other better,” stated Dante.

The 6-foot-4, 280-pound Stills has been a key member of West Virginia’s defensive line since the moment he stepped onto campus in 2018. He was a freshman All-America his first season, finishing with 16 tackles, 6.5 TFLs and three sacks. He was a second-team All-Big 12 performer in 2019 and an honorable mention all-conference pick in 2020.

He enters his fourth year at WVU with 75 career tackles, 28.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks. He needs three more TFLs to move into the top 10 in school history.

“Time does fly by. It’s been a quick journey,” admitted Stills, whose academic excellence has also earned him a spot on the Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Roll. “I still think about my first game, my first time on campus. I wish it hadn’t gone by so fast, but I’m here — a senior, an old guy.”

This will be Dante’s first year as a Mountaineer without Darius by his side. They remain close, though they are now separated by 2,200 miles.

“He calls me every day or every other day,” Dante said of his older brother. “At times I’ll send him video, and he’ll talk to me about things I can fix. I still learn from him every day.”

Dante is trying to follow Darius into the NFL, and WVU’s coaches like the path the younger of the Stills’ brother is taking.

“He’s been active,” WVU head coach Neal Brown said of Dante’s effort during the preseason. “We’ve moved him around a bunch (defensive tackle, nose tackle and defensive end). We’ve challenged him to lead and be consistent every day. I’m pleased with where he’s at. He’s made real growth, and he’s embracing the challenge.”

Like Dante, Frazier has had an impact since he arrived at WVU a year ago. Last season he became the first true freshman offensive lineman to start a game at West Virginia in more than 40 years. He wound up starting nine of the Mountaineers’ 10 games in 2020, helping the team to a 6-4 record, and he earned honorable mention All-Big 12 recognition and also was named a freshman All-American by ESPN.

Though he started WVU’s 2020 season opener at center, his other eight starts came at guard. The 6-foot-3, 306-pounder has moved to center on a full-time basis this season, though, and despite his youth, is regarded as a leader on the Mountaineers’ offensive line.

“He does such a good job of understanding the game, understanding who we’re going to ID and who is working to who,” said WVU offensive line coach Matt Moore of the engineering major. “I’m very comfortable with his communication of that. He will only continue to get better. The next thing for him is to see the secondary and understand the safety rotations. That’s when you start to get to those 400-level classes.”

Frazier and Stills have been competing against each other for many years, and they have each done an outstanding job of honing the other’s skills and competitive fire.

“I feel like he’s going to be one of the best o-linemen in the conference, for sure,” Dante said of Zach.

“We’ve pushed each other,” acknowledged Frazier. “We make each other better.”

Iron sharpening iron.

GLORIA SUE WASHBURN ATKINS passed away peacefully on August 8, 2021, at the age of 89 after suffering a stroke. She died in Morgantown, WV, wh…