The unlikely convergence of a QB, WR and OC may mean great things for West Virginia
Grier, Stills and Spavital all joined WVU from elsewhere but might make the perfect trio
CORONADO, Calif. -- The quarterback was suspended by the NCAA after testing positive. His favorite receiver was once anointed the next great quarterback.
"It's an unbelievable story," said Mountaineers offensive coordinator Jake Spavital, the man responsible for integrating these imported talents.
So unbelievable that it makes some sort of sense at West Virginia. The program is an outlier in the Big 12, located almost 900 miles from its nearest conference rival.
Grier was an outcast after being suspended for a full calendar year while at Florida in 2015. As a freshman, he tested positive for a performance enhancing substance on the NCAA's banned list. Grier appealed to the NCAA -- it was denied -- and he transferred to West Virginia.
It was there he learned Sills' story. As a 12-year-old, the weight of the world was heaped on Sills when then-USC coach Lane Kiffin offered the prodigy quarterback a scholarship. Sills is now 21 on his second tour with the Mountaineers.
Kiffin was eventually fired. Sills eventually committed to West Virginia as a quarterback out of a Christian academy his dad created back in Maryland.
That school is now closed. Sills has switched to receiver. Two careers have reset in Morgantown. Grier and Sills will start together this season, the best of buddies now better informed about life.
"It would really suck if I was just one of those stories," Sills said, "and really didn't make anything out of it."
The question until the third week of June was whether Grier would even be eligible for the opener. Until then, there was a possibility he would have had to sit out the first half of 2017, suspended from a year of football not just a calendar year as it was decreed.
On June 20, Holgorsen tweeted out the triumphant news that he had a starting quarterback. West Virginia won an NCAA appeal.
"I don't like to bring it up," Spavital said of Grier's Florida experience. "That's part of his past."
In a revealing story last year, Grier told Bleacher Report he took Ligadrol, a substance he thought was not on the NCAA's banned list. Grier's mistake was not alerting Florida's training staff. It turns out Ligadrol indeed was on an updated list. Grier did not do his homework.
"Obviously I wasn't trying to do anything wrong," Grier said.
All three -- Spavital, Sills and Grier -- landed at West Virginia from elsewhere. All three are huge reasons why the Mountaineers are expected to back up a 10-win season in 2016.
Grier was almost incognito here recently at an offseason quarterback camp. He taught campers with a floppy West Virginia hat pulled low over his head, wearing sunglasses and sporting a full beard. Grier looked more like a doting dad of a 6 ½-month old daughter than former four-star national recruit.
"I had a previous relationship with Dana [during recruiting]," Grier said. "During the process of me transferring, we talked on the phone quite a bit. …
"It came out where I was going to be suspended for a year and six more games, which wasn't right. Dana said, 'I'll take you either way, and we'll figure it out.'
"Obviously, we figured it out."
Sills was at the same quarterback camp, this time as a receiver -- a reminder that not all grade-school prodigies pan out. He has been chased by the spotlight since Kiffin's offer. His story has been featured on "60 Minutes." He didn't ask for any of it.
Sills enrolled early at West Virginia in January 2015. He eventually switched to receiver that season. In one last shot at quarterback glory, Sills then transferred to El Camino College, a Southern California JUCO for 2016.
He threw for 1,636 yards, completed less than 54 percent of his passes and transferred right back to West Virginia, rejoining the program as a receiver.
The one-time quarterback prodigy will start and play the X,Y and H receiver positions. At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, Sills will also play the slot.
In other words, he'll be all over the field. In his 10th year as a college assistant, that's the only receiver Spavital has ever allowed do that.
"The thing I like about him is, he chased his dream. He's not afraid to take risks," Spavital said. "Dana and him had a really great relationship. After a year at JUCO, Dana had a deal with him: If you don't get what you wanted, you're more than welcome to come back."
In the receiver room, Spavital calls Sills his most valuable player. He knows the offense and takes notes like a quarterback.
"I never, ever in my wildest dreams imagined what happened -- going to West Virginia, leaving, coming back," Sills said. "But I wouldn't change a thing."
Spavital was coaxed into coming back to West Virginia himself by Holgorsen, who handed him play-calling duties.
"I never thought Dana would actually give it up," Spavital said. "That's the reason I left."
At age 32, Spavital has lived a coaching lifetime. This is his seventh stop. He coached Johnny Manziel a year after his Heisman Trophy season in 2013. The next season, Kenny Hill was on a Heisman arc under Spavital before the quarterback was suspended.
After a season at Cal in 2016, Spavital became interested in West Virginia again when Holgorsen made the ultimate promise.
"You're one of the only guys I want to call my offense," Holgorsen told him this time.
The coordinator, his quarterback and the receiver all should thrive. They have faced worse.
"It's going to be a story to tell," Sills said. "… Now I think I've found a place where I fit pretty well at West Virginia. My mom, she keeps all the articles. I have all of that to show my kids."
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