Darius Stills arrived in Morgantown in June of 2017 with few outside expectations. Many viewed him as an undersized defensive lineman. Only a select few thought he could make an impact at the Power-Five level. Indeed, he committed to West Virginia holding only two offers from such programs. His approach to developing his game, however, remains as simple and as nuanced as his game on the field. With it, Darius took himself from overlooked to All-American in three-and-a-half short years.
Darius Stills: From Overlooked to All-American
The Portrait of a Young Darius
Most people know by now that Darius grew up in Fairmont, son of Gary Stills and Janeen Floyd. His father, Gary, built his own legend playing linebacker for the Mountaineers in the late 90s. Based on that work, the Kansas City Chiefs selected Gary in the 3rd round of the 1999 NFL Draft. He even earned a Pro Bowl selection during his ten-year NFL career.
Despite that background, Darius actually played soccer before he ever considered playing football. But one day Darius and his brother Dante Stills were tossing a ball around while watching a family friend’s football practice. Deion Dobbs saw the two brothers and encouraged Floyd to push her sons into the game. Darius confessed that he was intimidated at first but that quickly subsided.
Though he enjoyed the game from his first moments, Darius told us he really built a passion for the game during his junior year of high school, when he “started getting to show[ing] what [he] could do.” There, he played on the lines and rotated some at linebacker. According to Darius, he started to envision where he could take himself with football from there. The whole time, however, he was just “focused on being a ballplayer.”
That being said, the road was a bit windy for Darius. As he grew into his starting role, he did not command as much attention from scouts as he thought he should. The lack of attention came despite strong performances riding the camp circuit. According to his mother, she really started to understand how good Darius could be at football during these events. Of course, she “always knew Darius was going do big things, whether it was on or off of the field.”
But their trips to combines and camps showed her that those big things were more likely to be on the field. She recalled fondly that Darius would always take the biggest and best players head-on in camps. She tells us that Darius “beat everyone he ever went up against.” Darius started racking up accolades at the camps, even winning MVP at one.
Darius tells us much the same story. When we asked how he thought he performed at those camps, Darius didn’t miss a beat, “I tore people up.” He did not say this with arrogance but to make his ultimate point. Despite performing so well, scouts still viewed him as undersized. Coaches seemed to agree, as Darius only received two Power Five offers, from West Virginia and Rutgers.
Instead of finding a reason to be dejected, however, Darius told us he drew motivation from the experience. He knew that in order to prove himself he had to “be the best or beat the best” in those camps. Darius said, once you do that, the “eyes are on you.” And as the camp circuits concluded, He made it his personal mission to “make these coaches wish they’d have offered a scholarship.” After all, Darius always “knew the type of player [he] was” and he “felt disrespected.”
Finding the Edge
In fact, he developed his edge based on that feeling of disrespect. Tangibly, of course, he offers a lot of skill on the field. In his own words, he knows he is “really quick” for his size. Objectively, he is. We would add that Darius plays with technical proficiency and uses his quickness, strength, and technique as well as anyone we have seen in Morgantown. But when asked what his unique edge was, Darius didn’t hesitate to contribute two things. First, he said, he’s “really just a football player.” Second, and most importantly, he admits he has a “big chip on [his] shoulder.”
It is that chip, that persistent feeling of being doubted, that serves as Darius’ motivation. In fact, when we asked Darius whether he felt any pressure growing up the son of an NFL veteran, he said he felt none. He always knew that he and his dad were “completely different players.” That does not mean that his dad had no impact, however. Darius said that Gary “influence[d] us to be great.”
Where that greatness comes from is clear and Darius’s work ethic is top-notch. In fact, he told us the COVID environment did not change his routine one bit. He always used his free time to “recover his body.” Darius concluded, “I live football 24/7.” Ultimately, that is the product of his belief in himself despite outside doubters. He also shared that he never frequented the bars and clubs because that would lead to “nothing but trouble.” As a result, those limitations did not affect him. That sharp focus also paints a vivid picture of what success looks like.
Darius feeds from the chip on his shoulder. He finds that fuel everywhere. His own doubters laid the first bricks. Then, when he saw his brother Dante accumulate multiple offers, that “made [Darius’] chip even bigger.” At the end of the day, Dante used that to “help [Darius] to push [him]self to do the best [he] could.” Darius took it from there. On the limited scholarship offers, Darius told us, simply, that “God has a plan for everybody.” For Darius, apparently, the plan was to churn that internal fire.
From Overlooked to All-American
In the Beginning
When Darius first came to college, he admits he “didn’t know how it was going to go.” Indeed, in his first year, his playing time was limited. He competed for snaps with players like Ezekiel Rose, Lamonte McDougle, and Reese Donahue. In his sophomore season, he competed with his brother, Rose, Donahue, Kenny Bigelow, and Jabril Robinson. While he found his way into a bigger share of the rotating snaps, he still hadn’t “arrived.”
In his junior season, however, Darius made a big splash after responding to Head Coach Neal Brown’s challenge for Darius to offer more consistency. He honed his edge and made good on his promises to himself. See, while Darius wasn’t sure how college was going to look, he certainly made big goals. Led by a new coaching staff, Darius fine-tuned his approach.
Learning the Why
Instead of focusing solely on the doubt, Darius says that Brown challenged him and others to “know our why.” Brown “upped the family culture” in Morgantown and encouraged the team to “play for each other.” From that, Darius realized he was not just playing for his own goals, though they remained. Instead, he “played for [his] family, for West Virginia.” Knowing what he played for made a huge difference, as Darius racked up All-Conference First Team honors after a tremendous junior season.
Darius could have easily moved on to the NFL at that point. Instead, he chose to return for one last season. Then, the recognition started coming. Towards the end of his junior year, Darius said that those same coaches who doubted him started specifically “scheming to stop [Darius] and [his] brother.” Those same coaches—and the voices who watch them—named Darius to pre-season award watch lists. He earned pre-season Big XII Defensive Player of the Year honors and pre-season All-American honors from numerous sources.
Ultimately, Darius used his senior season to hone his “why.” He played for a team. As for the extra attention he commanded, Darius admits happily that this allowed other “players to break out.” The extra focus on him meant less focus on others, like Akheem Mesidor, who were freed to terrorize the backfield.
Becoming an All-American
Media and voters certainly took notice. Despite a slightly down season statistically, media and coaches were not fooled. This had not meant Darius regressed. It simply meant he commanded added attention from those same opposing coaches who stoked Darius’ embers. As for God’s plan? To this point, Darius fulfilled it the best he could. He etched his name in history becoming the first Consensus All-American in Morgantown since 2006.
He even had some fun at his dad’s expense. Once he learned of his selection, Darius called his father and told him, “I got one thing that you didn’t; I’m All American.” The two shared a hearty laugh. So much for that “undersized” and overlooked defensive tackle from Fairmont. He certainly completed his road from overlooked to All-American.
From Overlooked to All-American: Still Doubters
Darius’s story does not end with his All-American honors, however. Surprisingly, despite the recognition and rising draft stock, the Senior Bowl did not invite Darius to participate. Asked about the snub, Darius responded simply, “being slept on is a familiar feeling to me.” Undoubtedly, he will keep working to “prove people wrong.” Clearly, Darius remains shocked by the snub. “I’ve never heard of an All-American not being invited to the Senior Bowl,” he added frankly.
We hear him. We don’t recall any similar examples either. Darius, however, has work left to do. And if God’s plan for Darius requires that edge and that chip on his shoulder to grow, then He simply added more ammunition.
For now, he continues to hone his craft and prepare his body for the Combine and NFL Draft. Using the lessons Mike Joseph and the training team taught him, Darius currently finds himself working with trainers in Ft. Lauderdale. While he told us he “misses it back home,” he continues to give his full attention to his next goal. He was even “told to slow down” during his workouts earlier this week.
Darius wants to hear his name called at the NFL Draft and prove he belongs. While he did mention a few teams he would love to play for (which we will refrain from disclosing), Darius is just hoping to find “any scheme I can fit in.” He added, “any team that wants me, I will appreciate [the opportunity].” For now, he continues to “trust the process.” After he gets to the NFL, Darius wants to be “making plays like Aaron Donald.”
These are big goals from a young man with a big vision. When we asked Darius if he had any advice for young kids who might want to follow in his footsteps, he was clear. “Don’t let anyone tell you what you can and can’t do.” He added, “keep proving yourself right and proving them wrong.” Darius has certainly done that. As for fans, Darius just wanted to thank them for everything they’ve done. He promises, “I’m gonna make y’all proud.” Indeed, he already has, but do not tell him that too loudly (yet). We do not want to starve the fuel for his next battle.