With his brother Darius Stills now graduated and preparing for the NFL draft, Dante Stills finds himself as one of the elder statesmen on a West Virginia defense that had a monster season last year.
And despite obviously missing his brother, Dante Stills is completely fine with being a leader.
“Like, who doesn’t want to be a leader?” he said during a Zoom press conference on Wednesday with a grin on his face. “As a senior, you’re not automatically a leader, but I’ve played the last three seasons and being a senior now … it’s not hard, I feel like I’ve had that type of guidance throughout my years. Throughout the years I just learned off of [older players] how to be vocal and be there for my guys, so if they have any questions I’m answering them right off the bat. I like being in this role.
“I’ve always wanted to be a leader and this is my opportunity since I’m technically the old guy now.”
Maybe “old” is the wrong word, but in terms of experience in the program, the Fairmont Senior product is certainly among the most seasoned of any of the Mountaineers. Dante Stills has appeared in 34 games in three years, making 14 sacks, 39 tackles for loss and 110 total tackles along the way.
While you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, this “old” Mountaineer is certainly learning right along with the rest of his teammates so far in spring practice. Positional diversity has been one of the main points of emphasis from the team reconvened a couple of weeks ago.
Defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley said that one of the most important areas for that is along the defensive front. Dante Stills concurred, saying the entire process has been enjoyable and is likely necessary for a unit that ranked fourth in the country in total defense a year ago to take yet another step forward.
“I like it a lot,” he said. “It shows just how versatile our D-line can be. Our coaches are kind of moving us all around so we know everybody’s positions very well. In a game you never know when someone might go down or you might just be thrown into the game at any point so you need to know every position that’s taught.”
Along with training players at multiple positions, WVU head coach Neal Brown and his staff have spoken about heightening the level of accountability and leadership among the players. That would seem to fall right in line with Dante Stills’ acceptance of his role.
But after key losses at all three levels of the defense — Darius Stills on the line, linebackers Tony Fields and Dylan Tonkery and spear Tykee Smith and cornerback Dreshun Miller in the secondary — that player-led mentality could be the key to backing up last season with another big one.
“Our mentality is you’ve got to get to the ball, you’ve got to make tackles,” Dante Stills said. “[Defensive coordinator Jordan] Lesley preaches every day that, ‘I can’t be the one that picks everybody up, you guys have to do it on your own.’ If he has to do it, it just doesn’t end well. Our players have to come together and share a whole mindset together and prepare and play at a good level.”
While it’s clearly a team-first mentality in Morgantown, Stills has his own individual goals to chase as well, one of which is to follow closely in his brother’s footsteps straight to the NFL.
Having a brother as an NFL prospect certainly offers its advantages, and everything that Darius Stills is going through now — from pro day to the draft — is being noted by his younger brother.
“What I’ve noticed throughout this whole thing is patience,” Dante Stills said. “It’s all about controlling what you can control, because after pro day you have no control of when you’re going to get picked or what team. As of right now I’m just kind of learning off him just to be patient. If people call, just make sure you answer correctly, answer with honesty, stuff like that. Every day he talks to people, so I kind of just pick [his brain]. Other than that, for him, he still works out through the day, so you have to work out and keep in shape. But I’m definitely hoping I’m in his position one day.”
But before that day comes, Dante Stills has some business left to do in Morgantown. For the first time in his career, it will come without his older brother lining up alongside him.
Different? Sure. But the two have accepted their own responsibilities, and for now, they trump any emotions stemming form their separation.
“It’s definitely going to be different. I’ve been so used to living with him and been around him my whole life,” Dante Stills said. “I know he knows it’s a business, it’s a job. He knows I’m going to handle business and I know he’s going to handle his business, so it’s all love.
“He’s older than me, so I can’t be like, ‘Stay another year.’ That’s selfish. I know the things he’s going through and he’s very excited about it and I’ve just got to be there to support him.”