AP Photo/Raymond Thompson, File)

West Virginia QB Grier ready for run at Big 12

By JOHN RABY , AP Sports Writer

August 30, 2018 - 11:17 am
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — Quarterback Will Grier and wide receiver David Sills worked well together at West Virginia last year, right down to announcements a few days apart that they'd return for their senior seasons.

Rather than wondering what might have been if the duo chose to enter the NFL draft, No. 17 West Virginia is ecstatic to have its top playmakers back for a season that begins Saturday against Tennessee in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Things might be different had Grier not broken the middle finger on his throwing hand against Texas and missed most of the final three games. He announced Dec. 14 he'd return after throwing for 3,490 yards and 34 touchdowns, second most in school history.

Sills tied for the Bowl Subdivision lead with 18 receiving touchdowns and was named a second-team all-American and a Biletnikoff Award finalist. He followed Grier's announcement with his own four days later.

Mountaineers fans couldn't have been happier, let alone coach Dana Holgorsen, who had to recruit Sills and Grier all over again and even pitched another year to Grier's family.

Their decisions were personal and many factors weighed in. For Grier, there also was the reality that several other high-caliber quarterbacks were available in the NFL draft. Five were chosen in the first round alone.

Consulting with Sills "definitely played into it," Grier said. "It was kind of unanimous for both of us that it was come back and do this thing. We definitely played off each other. But that wasn't the deciding factor."

It wasn't a question if one returns, so does the other. There were many players in the mix. Offensive lineman Yodny Cajuste, wide receiver Gary Jennings and defensive back Dravon Askew-Henry, all seniors, are also back.

For Sills, the big factor was team goals.

"That was one thing that I really wanted to do was leave our mark, and I think it was more than just me," he said. "We knew we had a chance to have something special here at West Virginia."

Sills' career has taken many turns already. As a middle school quarterback in Delaware, he received a scholarship offer at age 13 from Lane Kiffin at Southern California. Kiffin didn't stick around long enough to honor it. Sills was moved to wide receiver on the scout team at West Virginia in 2015. With quarterback still in his blood, he transferred to a California junior college in 2016, then returned to West Virginia a year later as a wide receiver.

"Toward the end of junior college, I realized the point was God was closing that door for me and he left the wide receiver door open," Sills said. "So I jumped in with both feet and stayed with it."

Grier went 5-0 as a freshman at Florida in 2015 before being suspended a year for violating the NCAA's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. He transferred to West Virginia, spent a year as the scout team quarterback and made an immediate impact in 2017 as West Virginia became one of the Big 12's better offenses.

More than half of Grier's TD tosses went to the 6-foot-4 Sills, who has become especially good at toe-tapping catches in the back of the end zone.

"My dad always told me if you're going to do something, you might as well do it to be great," Sills said. "I love the game and want to be great at it."

There's still some kinks to work out.

Sills was third on the team with 60 receptions for 980 yards. He had just 14 over the final six games — four of them losses — and no receptions in a bowl setback to Utah as West Virginia finished 7-6. He had three TD grabs over that six-game span, getting shut out in the last three games when Grier was hurt.

Sills wants to build his endurance in order to produce over an entire season, hone his film study and improve his blocking to help spring someone else for a long run.

"It's not just you catching the ball," he said.

Grier is juggling school and a growing family with his wife and 21-month-old daughter. He is also getting plenty of preseason Heisman Trophy attention.

Grier completed 64 percent of his passes last year but threw a league-high 12 interceptions, including four against Oklahoma State. He had to manufacture several late comeback attempts while West Virginia's running game — and defense — struggled at times.

"The kid's very driven," offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said. "He wants to be the best at what he does. You can kind of see that the work he's put in has translated to the field and he's considered one of the top guys out there."

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