Legacy is bigger than mountains, it’s bigger than the foothills that surround them and the rivers and streams that stretch forth to the sea. It’s bigger than stadiums, than championship parades and statistical piles that get buried in time. Legacy is colored by context and events and the gravity of place and time colliding to write an enduring story. Because that’s what legacy does: it endures.
Let’s talk about the legacy of Will Grier and David Sills.
Before they combined forces to lay siege to West Virginia’s record books, Will Grier and David Sills V were already lapping up the spotlight in North Carolina and Delaware, respectively. You’ve all heard the stories, by now- Sills was a prodigy under center and was famously offered a full scholarship to USC by then-coach Lane Kiffin as a wiry 8th-grader. Grier was a multi-sport star who, under the scrutinizing eye of his father Chad, was blossoming into a prolific quarterback in his own right. Sills suffered a hand injury that permanently affected his release, the USC offer dissolved and his pool of offers shrunk. Grier posted mind-numbing stats, earned national player of the year honors and pledged to Will Muschamp and the Florida Gators.
I could go on about the rest but, again, you know the story. The football gods determined that all roads stretching from Gainesville to Los Angeles ultimately lead to Morgantown. What has happened in the past two seasons when Grier and Sills have been on the field together is nothing short of mountain magic. I’ll talk about the numbers in a bit, but what Grier and Sills have done in their fleeting time in Morgantown has less to do with metrics than it does shaping the future of the West Virginia program for the better.
Sills hasn’t just been a good wide receiver, he’s navigated the position’s learning curve at light speed and has all but revolutionized it within the Mountaineers program. What started as an as-needed role in scout team blossomed into profound realization on Dana Holgorsen’s behalf that, yes, that Sills kid can play.
West Virginia has yielded some incredible receiving talent over the years – Kevin White, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Chris Henry, Danny Buggs and James Jett- to name a few. Sills, however, is still in his infancy in terms of time spent at the position and already looks like he’s ready for the pros. The David Sills V, who spent a lifetime being groomed to be the next great quarterback only to line up out wide and proceed to destroy every secondary tasked with stopping him. At what point in the history of the West Virginia program has anyone witnessed such dominant transformation in such a small window of time? 33 touchdowns in two seasons while being thoroughly green within his position group; that should tell you all you need to know.
Then there’s Grier, who has lived up to every expectation laid upon him in 2018. No, he’ll not be going to New York for Heisman honors. There’s only so much you can do until a blue blood with a better record and a signature thrashing of a conference foe steals your remaining thunder. But the Charlotte native, who’s grown up in the most important ways since landing in Morgantown, has done nothing but lead and excel in route to posting 7,354 yards and 71 touchdowns in two shortened seasons with the Mountaineers. Those are staggering numbers for any player, let alone one also attending to a marriage and a toddler at home. There’s nothing easy about the juggling act that Grier has had to execute these past two years and in between the injuries, the media frenzy and the barrage of long days and nights in service to both team and family no.7 has made most of it look almost effortless. The coolness in the pocket, the elated nods toward the sideline, the enviable ease in front of TV cameras and the swagger of someone who’s been waiting for the spotlight his entire life- it’s no act. Grier is the real deal and he’s given his all to West Virginia.
When all is said and done, Sills will finish second in school history in career touchdown receptions behind only Stedman Bailey. Grier will stand second in career passing touchdowns, third in career passing yards and fourth in career completions. Both players’ highlight reels will be time capsule material, hallmarked by graceful gallops into the end zone and back-foot throws that seemed to fall from the heavens into incalculably small windows. There will always be Grier’s last second, off-balance bomb to Gary Jennings in the waning moments of the Texas game that caused Gus Johnson to lose his mind. There will forever be the silhouette of Sills, every inch of his six-foot-four mass extended, pulling down catch after catch in the corner of the end zone. There will always be Grier, down 28-17 at home to a ranked Texas Tech team, orchestrating an insane 28 point comeback win and in turn verifying just what kind of player he was. There will always be the memory of Grier and Sills, triumphant, grinning ear to ear, resplendent in the old gold and blue.
And yet, despite all of this, despite the gaudy metrics and the endless supply of big plays, there is no championship hardware, no historic winning mark set. In the perpetual cycle of college seasons living and dying, West Virginia’s 2017 and 2018 records will be buried in the mix. It’s perhaps the biggest shame of all, what could have/should have been. Make no mistake, Grier, Sills and the rest of the Mountaineers that highlighted the roster over the last two seasons retained all the raw ingredients to go on a run the likes of Pat White and Major Harris did in eras past. Yet, aspirations for a Big 12 championship and crashing the college playoff never crystallized. 539 yards from Grier, 131 from Sills and 704 massive yards of offense wasn’t enough to lift West Virginia past likely Heisman winner Kyler Murray and the Sooners, the final nail in the proverbial coffin.
So what does this mean for the legacy of David Sills and Will Grier? How does individual greatness stand apart from the shortcomings of a team? By my modest approximation, great is great. Period. The end. Don’t tell Texas Tech fans that Patrick Mahomes, who is currently demolishing NFL defenses, wasn’t sensational during his time in Lubbock despite only winning 13 games in three seasons as a starter.
Likewise, don’t attempt to persuade me or anyone else in Mountaineer nation, for that matter, that Will Grier and David Sills didn’t do their level-best to take West Virginia to the brink. The literal mountain of touchdowns and yards they erected during their time as Mountaineers is proof of that.
In the pantheon of great college duos, Will Grier and David Sills were one of the best in recent years. In terms of one-two punches in the history of West Virginia football, the argument stands that they are all-time great behind only Pat White and Steve Slaton and arguably Geno Smith and Stedman Bailey.
Their lasting impact on this program will be drastic, to say the least. As household names, they’ll be the subject of every recruiting pitch from now until the Mon river dries up and football ceases to be played.
“You want to play wide receiver in college? Let me tell you about a kid named David Sills…”
“You’re a quarterback and want to run a wide-open offense? Let’s talk about Will Grier and what he did…”
“Let me tell you about two of the greats. Kids who did it the right way….”
Can you hear Dana Holgorsen and his staff reciting that in every living room from Martinsburg to Dallas? I can.
As I write this, West Virginia still has one game left on its 2018 slate. A December 28th date against an old Big East rival in 9-3 Syracuse down in Orlando is all that remains of the era of Will Grier, David Sills, Gary Jennings and Jake Spavital. Even now, it doesn’t feel like it should have ever happened at all. Grier falling into disfavor and leaving Florida and Sills chasing the quarterback ghost all the way to California does not sound like the framework for an offensive renaissance taking place in north-central West Virginia. Yet, it did and has come and gone in the blink of an eye.
In that fleeting glimpse, I, we, the entire nation got to witness true greatness. Will Grier and David Sills will ultimately be remembered as two of the best to ever do it at West Virginia. Hopefully, they’ll carry the mountain state banner into the NFL and turn in stellar professional careers.
There will always be the sentiment that they and the rest of the team deserved more, that the fan base deserved more and that sentiment wouldn’t be incorrect. What overshadows that, however, is that of all the paths that either Sills or Grier could have chosen, something bigger steered them down country roads and, ultimately, towards home. Home is now in better shape than before they arrived. Home’s future is bright. That’s the legacy Will Grier and David Sills leave behind. Always and forever, they are Mountaineers.