Dante Stills is all alone. Not really. It just feels that way.
That’s because for only the second time in his life, the star West Virginia University defensive tackle is without his older brother, Darius.
They have been a pair, a duo, a combination — the Stills Brothers — for all of their young lives. Darius is only one year older than Dante. So yes, they literally grew up together.
The Stills brothers have been separated only twice. When Darius graduated from Fairmont Senior High School and became a freshman nose tackle at WVU, leaving Dante behind at Fairmont Senior for his senior year ... and now.
Darius is a free agent in the NFL, toiling in the Las Vegas Raiders’ camp. Meanwhile, Dante is a senior at WVU, being counted on to anchor the Mountaineers’ defensive line during the upcoming 2021 season.
So now the Stills brothers are apart.
Well, physically at least.
“Me and Darius played side by side our whole lives,” said the younger Stills, “so it was kind of easy. If a play was called, we already knew. We had already talked. We had our own language, I guess you could say.
“I don’t want to say it’s going to be very different, I just have to be more vocal really. Darius was vocal. He would say da-da-da-da. Now, I’ve got to be the one that takes charge of the line, for sure.”
That means mentoring nose tackle in training Akheem Mesidor, who is moving inside after a phenomenal true freshman year at defensive end.
So the roles have been reversed. Dante’s days as the sidekick are over. Not that he doesn’t still get advice from his big brother. He most certainly does.
“He actually calls me every other day, maybe every day,” said Dante, a 6-foot-4, 280-pound senior. “He talks to me about his practice and how he did. He teaches me little things that I could fix.
“I might send him film, so he could critique it. I just learn from him every day — on how the process goes and how to be patient with it. He tells me certain things, like hand placement, like sitting on blocks and like being consistent.”
Dante misses his brother — a lot. Yet the star defensive lineman is embracing his aloneness, while grabbing the spotlight all for himself for a change as the solo Stills brother.
“I always wanted to be in this position,” said Dante. “The senior. The old guy. So I’m here. Becoming a leader and maturing and getting in that role — that senior, that guy. I want to be that for my teammates. I want to lead them, for sure.
“They want me to lead — the D-line, defense, the team. So, I’m taking that role head-on.”
It’s an unaccustomed role for little brother. He gets to be “Dante,” instead of being one-half of the “Stills Brothers.”
Yet if Dante could trade this solo season for another year playing beside Darius, he would leap at the opportunity. It was obvious in his voice when someone in the press conference asked Dante if he missed Darius.
“Of course,” he said quietly. “That’s my older brother. I talk to him every day. Just to be able to talk to him for 10 minutes, 15 minutes is always a good thing. I always stay in touch.
“Of course I miss him. But it’s business. He’s out there doing his thing. I’m here doing my thing. Hopefully, one day I’ll be out there or wherever in the country, so I’m excited for him.”
They are more than 2,000 miles away from each other. They never have been so separated in their entire lives. Yet Dante and Darius remain the “Stills Brothers.”
They are Stills together.