MORGANTOWN — Friday was supposed to be the day that West Virginia football coach Neal Brown put the wraps on last season but instead it turned out to be the day in which the Mountaineers took a huge forward step toward next year.
All-Big 12 nose guard Darius Stills, who was hinting that he might skip his senior season and put his name into the NFL draft, announced via Twitter that he was returning to play his final season with his brother, Dante, at WVU.
“I would love to thank my family for staying by my side through thick & thin, through all the blood, sweat & tears, without them I don’t know where I would be today,” the son of former WVU great Gary Stills began.
“I would also like to thank the Lord for blessing me with the opportunities that have come to me in my life. These past three years having the opportunity to live out my dream of playing football and being able to showcase my talents for West Virginia University holds a special place in my heart & I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
“With that being said, and after talking with God and my family, I have decided to forgo the NFL Draft and return for my senior season. I am excited for what the 2020 season has in store for Coach Neal Brown & the team. Let’s get work. Trust The Climb!”
This is a major step forward after the Mountaineers went 5-7 in Brown’s first season.
At a press conference that was called to recap that first year, Brown admitted that he had begun discussions with Stills indicating he believed the former Fairmont Senior High star would go through the NFL evaluation process before deciding whether to leave early.
Along those lines, there was some other news that could help WVU’s 2020 team.
Wide receiver George Campbell, the Florida State transfer who became “The Touchdown Man” while also becoming a special teams star and exerting a strong locker room influence and being an active member of the community, has applied for sixth year
eligibility due to injuries “and I’m pretty certain he’ll be approved,” Brown said.
If so, that would be a huge boost to a receiving corps that made great strides during the year and be a great asset to quarterback Jarret Doege, with whom he developed a special relationship as teammate and roommate.
On the negative side, safety JoVanni Stewart put his name into the transfer portal as expected on Friday. Brown said he has not yet met with Stewart but plans to do so.
Across football, everyone is caught up in the transfer situation, players leaving and trying to decide which transfers, if any, they would like to recruit to fill a short term need knowing that if they take a player for a year or two it counts as one of their 25 scholarships for that season.
“It’s not a West Virginia issue, but a Division I issue,” said Brown “It’s the world we live in.”
Brown’s assessment of the season began with admitting that while the team’s overall record fell short of what is acceptable, the late season progress it showed left him with a lot of hope for next year.
“Five and seven record, not good enough, doesn’t meet the standard here but we were favored in only two of the 12 games,” Brown said. “I was pleased with the way we finished the season, winning two of the last three.
“I’m excited about our future, excited about where we’re going. We played a ton of first and second year players. We return a really high percentage of production on offense and defense.
“It’s a huge off-season for us, both from recruiting and development aspects. I told the team last Monday, we have to be focused on being one of the most improved teams in the country next year.”
The No. 1 objective offensively is to improve a nearly non-existent running game.
“We have to do that through development and recruiting,” he said, referring to the offensive line. “We’ve got to get stronger and improve our technique. We need bigger, more explosive bodies.”
The problem is that offensive linemen don’t grow on trees, and if they did they would be very big trees.
“Offensive line is the hardest thing to recruit,” he said. “There just aren’t that many big human beings. It’s really competitive.”
As for the quarterback situation, Brown plans to approach it without emotion.
“I will go back and look at Austin Kendall and Jarret and see what they did and look at their decision making, then in January, have a complete plan of how we’ll go,” Brown said.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel