MORGANTOWN — As much as West Virginia coaches liked high school junior Dante Stills at 250 pounds, they really like college freshman Dante Stills at 290.
He’s power-meets-mobility as the future meets now for WVU’s defensive line.
Even before the Mountaineers strapped up for their first full-contact practice of the preseason on Tuesday, Stills had reinforced all the anticipation that accompanied the four-star prospect from Fairmont.
True freshman. No false advertising.
This is all I know after four days in shorts: He’s going to play,” defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said. “Is he going to start? Maybe. Is he going to play 50 snaps a game? Maybe. Is he going to play 25 a game? Maybe.
“But he is going to play, he’s in our plans, and we’ve got to get him ready.”
The plan all along was for the nation’s No. 7-rated defensive tackle to join the rotation. That enthusiasm spiked once Stills arrived this summer bigger and broader yet remained capable of running with smaller players.
“He’s 292 pounds and moves like he’s 240,” Gibson said. “He’s got good genes.”
Yet even his NFL linebacker dad Gary Stills — who wore the same No. 55 at WVU two decades ago — might be envious of Dante’s crossover abilities.
“He’s different,” Gibson said. “I haven’t seen a freshman like that on the D-line walk though these doors in a long time. In my 13 years here, I’d be hard-pressed to say we’ve ever had one like that.”
Typically settling for developmental recruits on the defensive front, WVU has seen only four of its defensive linemen drafted this century — Will Clark, Bruce Irvin, Chris Neild and linebacker hybrid Shaq Riddick.
Stills is a unique acquisition, though, and would fit in among the prototypical defensive tackles at any of the Power Five bluebloods.
“When Dante walks in looking that way, you say that’s what they’re supposed to look like,” joked defensive line coach Bruce Tall.
And camp is supposed to involve force-feeding reps and insuring young players absorb the instruction. Until school begins and the 20-hour weekly maximum takes effect, Tall is all-in on mentoring Stills.
“The NCAA cuffs you during the year, but right now I can take time with him,” Tall said. “I can grab him at breakfast and talk to him. He understands there’s a plan and that he’s got to work through the process. And he understands we coach ‘em hard here.”
WVU envisions a defensive end rotation that utilizes Ezekiel Rose and Clemson transfer Jabril Robinson — both seniors — with Stills, Jeffrey Pooler and 13-game starter Reese Donahue. At 6-foot-4, Stills is the longest and heaviest of the group, while still maintaining the quickness to be an edge rusher.
“Size, speed and smarts,” said Gibson. “I don’t want to put that much pressure on the kid, but my expectations are high.”