Editor’s note: This is the final part of a three-part series about West Virginia University quarterback Will Grier. This installment looks into his life as a husband and father, as well as a Mountaineer.
Once Will Grier decided his tenure at Florida was over, he was a popular free agent. Schools like Ohio State and Oregon were suitors. Yet, he said, he just seemed to click with West Virginia University coach Dana Holgorsen.
“I talked to Dana on the phone,” Grier said. “I think I knew him from recruiting in high school. We just got to talking. I love his offensive style. I wanted to play in an offense like that, so it kind of worked out. Once we started talking, it all came together.”
The decision seemed to bring serenity to Grier, who is not only a standout quarterback, but now a husband and father.
And, like choosing WVU, Grier said his relationship with Jeanne just felt right.
“He fell into a Tampa guy group that I went to elementary school with,” Jeanne Grier said. “It was a long history of family and friends. He happened to be friends with them as well.
“Well, we just clicked immediately. We became best friends right off the bat. I think we fell in love pretty quickly. We hung out every day. Everything was just perfect. It was kind of weird.”
Jeanne Grier must have seemed a perfect addition to the Grier family. She had the football background as a former Tampa Bay Buccaneer cheerleader. She had a social media following. And then she had her man. One, she assures, is different than what most see.
“I know a completely different Will than everyone else,” Jeanne said. “He leaves football at the door when he comes home. We enjoy Netflix. We cook dinner together. We dance around the kitchen to rap songs.
“It would blow your mind to know how smart and funny he is. He can make me laugh like nobody else in the world. And we share the same sense of humor.”
They also share parenting duties. But when Grier is busy with football, Jeanne takes care of 2-year-old Eloise.
“She does a great job at home,” the signal-caller said. “She just does an unbelievable job of helping me and taking care of our daughter. She kind of lets me take care of [football] business. With her support and with time management habits and by prioritizing things we’ve kind of worked it out. We’re in a good spot.”
Eloise certainly found a spot in Grier’s heart.
“Phew,” he said. “I can’t even explain it, man. She’s everything. It’s crazy. When you have a kid, you understand that love. But if you don’t have a kid, you don’t understand.”
It makes Jeanne beam.
“They are so funny together,” she said. “I’m with her all day long and I feel she’s learned that when Daddy gets home she can run to him — and he’ll let her do all the things Mommy has said ‘no’ to all day. They are so funny.”
Eloise, in fact, has only lived in the Mountain State. Jeanne found out she was pregnant after the couple visited WVU.
“If you’d have asked me four years ago if I’d ever live in West Virginia, I wouldn’t even know what to say,” Jeanne said. “I’d never been to West Virginia. I’d never even been through the Northeast. So it was a culture shock coming from Florida. But West Virginia probably has the nicest overall people I’ve ever met in my life. You can go anywhere and strike up a conversation. So it was a pretty easy transition. Hard, but the people made it easier.”
In one sense, Grier’s journey at WVU to this point has been like that at Florida. Everything seemed to fall perfectly in place. Until it didn’t. Because of a fall.
Or rather a spike.
The Mountaineers were in fine shape last season at 7-3 and playing at home against Texas. The QB was having a terrific season and would finish No. 5 nationally in pass efficiency (162.7), No. 8 in yards passing per game (317.3) and No. 18 in completion percentage (64.4). He had one of West Virginia’s best all-time passing seasons, hitting 250 of 388 for 3,490 yards and 34 touchdowns. He would be named the Big 12’s Newcomer of the Year.
But moving left and toward the end zone against the Longhorns, Grier went to the ground. And when he rose, he showed the world a broken finger. Milan Puskar Stadium as a whole, it seemed, gasped.
“We were moving the ball well,” Grier said. “I really thought we had a good game plan. I liked where we were at. So we moved the ball all the way down the field but got stopped on the 1-yard line.
“Called a little bootleg. Went out there and David [Sills] was getting held up. I thought I could get the corner. Barely did because I’m a little slower than I used to be. But then I just kind of landed unlucky.”
His wife didn’t see the play live.
“There were so many emotions in 0.2 seconds,” Jeanne Grier said. “Luckily, I thought for some reason we were on defense so I got up to get a drink. Then everybody said, ‘Oh my gosh it’s so terrible!’ I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ They said, ‘His finger!’ I said ‘What finger are you talking about?’ They were like ‘Will’s!’ I ran as fast as I could.
“Oh my gosh, it was just terrible. That was hard. That was not a fun day.”
The rest of the season wasn’t fun for the Mountaineers. They lost to Texas 28-14, were blasted by Oklahoma 59-31 and fell flat against Utah in the Heart of Dallas Bowl 30-14 without Grier at the controls.
“Just part of the game,” Grier said. “I like to take care of myself. Made that play before. At Florida, I did it against Kentucky. I scored, jumped up and moved on. We won the game and everything was fine. There are just some things you can’t control. I don’t think I would have done anything different if the play was called right now.”
In regard to football, no one works closer with Grier than WVU offensive coordinator Jake Spavital.
“The thing I love about him is he’s constantly trying to learn,” Spavital said. “Football is a tough game. It’s always evolving. It’s always changing. And he’s very curious of mind. He’s always making sure he understands all phases, all coverages.
“He spends a ton of time in the summer watching tape. I just love that about him. I think the best players are those that are fully committed to the game. They are the ones that understand what everyone around them is doing. Will’s work ethic and mind is a perfect recipe for success.”
Spavital knows of what he speaks in regard to QBs — and he isn’t shy about sharing his opinion on Grier.
“He has the total package,” said the OC. “I’ve been fortunate to coach a lot of good quarterbacks. He might be the best I’ve had at having all the phases.
“Johnny Manziel was remarkable with his feet. He could extend plays and make those Johnny Football moments. Davis Webb [now of the New York Giants] was strictly a pocket passer. He was savvy in the pocket. Case Keenum [of the Denver Broncos] has a really fast release. He didn’t have the strongest arm. Brandon Weeden [of the Houston Texans] had the strongest arm I’d ever seen. Geno [Smith of the Los Angeles Chargers] was pretty multiple as well. I think that’s why he’s still playing, still finding teams.
“I just think Will is very special. In terms of arm strength, he can make all the throws. We saw him throw 65 yards in the air. He can throw the field comeback, which everybody grades arm strength on. But what makes him special is the ability to get the ball in and out of his hands quickly and make plays. He has a very fast release. Once the ball hits his hands, he can get it to a receiver. That stretches defenses. If a receiver gets any separation on the perimeter, he has the ability to get it to his playmakers — fast.
“Also, like in the Kansas State game, he extends plays to make throws. One went to Gary Jennings on the sideline and one to Ka’Raun White in the end zone. He’s really good at extending plays. It’s been fun to coach him.”
Grier has been placed as high as No. 2 among 2019 NFL mock draft picks. And his father Chad won’t argue.
“It’s a tough question to ask a dad,” he said. “You try to be credible as a coach. I think I was notorious as being Will’s worst critic and being too hard on him, but I’ll answer this way: If I had the money to buy the [Carolina] Panthers and was going build a franchise around a player — knowing how he is and who he is — there’s no question he’d be my guy.
“Any team that gets him probably doesn’t understand yet, but it’s as much about what’s on his inside than what kind of player he is on the field.”
Even Grier has an opinion on his probable future in the NFL.
“If you’re choosing me, you’re choosing a guy who is experienced in life and in football,” Grier said. “I’m a competitor. I have a good head on my shoulders. I love the game.
“As far as proving things on the field, I think that will take care of itself. I work really hard. I try. I’ve worked three different offenses. I’ve been pretty good in each one. I know the game pretty well.
“Whoever chooses me is going to get a guy who will really dig into the playbook and try to be the best player and teammate I can be. That’s all you can ask for. I’m not the biggest or maybe the most talented or whatever you want to say, but it’s hard to outwork me.”
With Holgorsen’s blessing, WVU put together a Grier-for-Heisman campaign, complete with a video series. The website, Grier7Heisman.com, launched July 7, the seventh day of the seventh month. There have been national media interviews and appearances. Yet the head coach said the QB is mature enough to keep the hype in perspective and stay the course.
“As far as handling it, it’s just part of it,” said the senior. “I’m very proud to represent West Virginia. I don’t mind speaking on behalf of this football program. I think it’s a great program. It’s an honor to represent this program and state and university.
“I look at it as a great opportunity to be a voice for this place. It doesn’t distract me or stop me from doing anything I’m doing football-wise. I’m just trying to get this football team together and 1-0.”
It’s hard not to notice the calm within. Father, husband, student, high-profile football player, teammate. Grier seems to take it all in stride.
“Mature beyond his years,” said his father Chad, who now coaches Oceanside Collegiate Academy in McClellanville, South Carolina, near Charleston. “He’s an old soul. He’s already experienced a lot — a lot of highs, a lot of lows. He’s showed great tenacity in the face of adversity. He’s come out of it a better person. By every measure.
“He’s a better man, father, husband, son and football player as a result of his experiences.”
Chad’s uncle, Eddie, is certainly proud. Although the man the Grier family affectionately calls “Uncle Eddie” has had a tough year in regard to health — he had two surgeries on his legs — his goal is to attend every Mountaineer game.
“West Virginia is amazing,” said Eddie. “I’ve met so many people in the Charlotte area that have graduated from West Virginia. They way they’ve treated Will is beyond belief. I thank God every day. It’s the best thing that’s happened to him. I’ve never seen him in a better place than I see him now — physically, spiritually, mentally. He’s just in a great place and I don’t know of anybody that deserves it more than him.”
Eddie can also think of one more man who would be proud: his brother — Chad’s father and Will’s grandfather — Ben. As a grandfather, Ben Grier would go to Will’s youth league games and live each play as if he were on the field. He’d pace the sidelines and when he got mad, he’d kick dirt. Yet he’d never curse. He hated cursing. (“He’d say dadgum it,” Eddie said.)
“Uncle” wells up considering what his brother would think of Will, his grandson, today.
“I get goosebumps thinking about it,” Eddie said. “He’d be proud of Will in his life more than his sports life. Will has talent. There’s no doubt about it. But I’ve always tried to tell Chad and Will, there’s more to life than football — as much as I love that game.
“It’s about what kind of man you’re going to be. And I think Ben would be so proud of the man Will has become as much as the accolades he so deserves for working so hard.”
Eddie paused, voice cracking. He finally finished.
“I don’t think my brother would be any prouder.”