MORGANTOWN — Perhaps influenced by his brother, Darius, being passed over in last year’s NFL draft; perhaps influenced by feeling he had more improvement to make before entering the draft; perhaps influenced by feeling West Virginia may be closer to putting together a wiInner than anyone thinks, as Coach Neal Brown proclaimed following a loss to Minnesota in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl, defensive tackle Dante Stills announced on Sunday that he will return to West Virginia University for a fifth season.
This, added to the decision to also return announced by leading tackler Josh Chandler-Semedo, puts a bandage on the wound that had had been bleeding players through the transfer portal for the last year and guarantees that WVU will return one of the strongest defensive units in the Big 12.
While for most of the season it was thought to be a given that Stills, who already has his degree, would leave school following this season and not take advantage of the extra year granted by the NCAA due to the COVID-19 virus’ effect on the 2020 season, Stills hinted before the bowl game that he was considering returning.
“I’ve still got to figure that out,” he said. “I’m still thinking. It’s going to be personal because I know in my four years I’ve done some damage. But if it wasn’t good enough then I got to step it up. It’s going to be very personal if I have to come back.
“I wouldn’t care [to come back]. That’s just an extra offseason to be in the weight room to get stronger, faster. I’m taking it day by day and I’ll weigh it all out after this game.”
Make no doubt that Chandler Semedo’s decision to return influenced Stills.
“These last few years in Morgantown have been a memorable experience. The fans, the culture and the tradition at West Virginia is like no other,” Chandler-Semedo said on social media in his surprising New Year’s Day announcement..
“Since I was a kid, I have dreamed of playing at the next level and having the opportunity to provide for my family and set the foundation for the youth to follow.
“I have been blessed to have a great career at West Virginia which has allowed me to be in position to have an opportunity to play at the next level and pursue my dreams. I am extremely grateful for that.
“However, there is still unfinished business, with that being said I am returning to play my Senior year. In pursuit of closing this chapter with one more Country Road!”
Stills’ announcement was a terser “I’m Back!” after posting three hours earlier that he had made a decision and it would be upcoming.
Those decisions came after the surprising announcement that leading receiver and kick returner Winston Wright Jr. was entering the transfer portal, as was quarterback Jarret Doege, whose decision was not surprising as he had been a lightning rod for criticism of the offense for two years.
The recent doings have completely altered the outlook for the Mountaineers next year. There will be a new quarterback and the competition figures to be intense between Garrett Greene, Goose Crowder and 4-star freshman Nicco Marchiol from Arizona.
Whoever wins it will be working behind an experienced offensive line and with a strong receiving corps despite Wright’s and Isaiah Esdale’s departures into the portal. The Mountaineers are still awaiting to see if Sean Ryan, who made great improvement last year, will return and are expecting a big jump from Kaden Prather into a key role, along with Bryce Ford-Wheaton and Sam James.
Chandler-Semedo became a force in the middle last year, leading WVU with 110 tackles. Sixty-eight of them were solo stops and he also intercepted two passes in the regular season finale at Kansas.
Chandler-Semedo has now played in 44 games at WVU and accrued 260 career tackles.
Stills, an All-Big 12 choice, allows WVU to do a lot of different things with Akheem Mesidor and gives them two candidates for Defensive Player of the Year in the Big 12 for next season.
A powerful pass rusher, Stills this year recorded 29 tackles, 15 or a loss with 7 sacks.