The Times West Virginian

July 17, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN: ‘Quarterback child prodigy’ comes to WVU amidst very high expectations

By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — Has West Virginia football coach Dana Holgorsen finally put the arrow he needs in his quiver with the commitment received Wednesday from high school quarterback David Sills, who is a rather extraordinary story and may also just be a rather extraordinary quarterback?

Sills, you see, is a rising senior at the football factory that is Red Lion Christian Academy in Elkton, Maryland, the same school that sent both receiver Dakiell Shorts and suddenly troubled running back Wendell Smallwood to West Virginia.

And although just 18 years of age, he has been in the media spotlight for half a decade, being written about in Sports Illustrated magazine even before Holgorsen had reached such heights.

We are not about to say that necessarily is a good thing, and will expand upon that theory later, but it is an extraordinary thing for Sills had not yet reached puberty when Lane Kiffin accepted a commitment from him at USC.

Sills was 13 at the time and already a veteran of the recruiting game, schools such as UCLA having begun his recruitment as early as 11. One suspects, had he then been able to hire an agent, he would have been doing Frosted Flakes commercials before reaching junior high.

Kiffin, as you may have read in your local newspapers, did not last at USC long enough to see Sills enroll, let alone graduate, and in a strange twist of fate now runs the Alabama offense, which will pit him against West Virginia in less six weeks.

Sills, meanwhile, had to go through his teenaged years carrying the burden of being the next MontanaMarinoManning. If you wish, add your own favorite quarterback.

He has grown from 6-foot-1, which he was at 13, to 6-foot-4 and has seemed to handle all the eyes and pressure that such early attention can bring to a player well, most reports citing him for being both humble and personably good natured.

What he hasn’t done is matured into the greatest quarterback in the world, which, of course, was an unreal expectation back there when he was a man-child.

The problem is that while he is a good enough quarterback to be among the best and to be drawing interest from some of the nation’s best programs, there are those who are expecting this superhuman machine.

The publicity machine surrounding him has placed a series of landmines in his road to stardom, not the least of which comes on his Wikipedia page which lists his name, age, nationality, occupation and then, under “Known for” says “Quarterback child prodigy.”

This is so un-West Virginia-ish, and certain so un-Don Nehlen-ish, the Hall of Fame coach who for 20 years took blue collar 3-star prospects and turned them into winning football players.

But times are different, the conference is different, the media is different and certainly in our HDTV and Internet world self-promotion is a must and players at every level worry as much about the style of their uniform, their introductory music and the number of followers they have on Twitter as they do about their touchdown passes.

Sills was groomed for this by his father almost from birth. A one-time quarterback at VMI, David Sills had his son working with nationally known quarterback guru Steve Clarkson since he was 7 years old and in the summer of 2009 sent him to the Debartolo Sports University in Las Vegas, where he was among many of the nation’s top youthful athletes.

Again, the question is whether this does more for a person than it does to a person?

Can he develop normally and come to value the really important things in life that go beyond touchdown passes and games won or will his entire moral and ethical equilibrium be thrown out of kilter?

Back in the 1980s and 1990s there was a similar quarterback prodigy in Todd Marinovich, who went to USC, had a brief pro career but failed at life in a battle with drugs.

That is not to say such an outcome awaits Sills. It simply should offer a warning to make sure that those around him continue to guide him in the right direction and to understand that life is to live and games are to play.

Sills, as noted, is not at the top of recruiting lists but he ranks No. 14 in Rivals.com list of pro style QBs and No. 23 in ESPN’s list of pocket passers, which makes him eligible to maybe even, with another high school season behind him, move into a position where he could compete for the starting job with William Crest a year from now.

He would, at least, give Holgorsen an option between a pocket passer and a more mobile QB such as Crest.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel