West Virginia wide receiver David Sills is one of college football's more remarkable stories. As a seventh-grade quarterback in 2010, he made national headlines by committing to USC and then-head coach Lane Kiffin. When the relationship fell apart in 2014, though, Sills signed with West Virginia.
Mountaineer coach Dana Holgorsen first tried Sills at quarterback but saw more potential from the player at receiver during scout team work. Sills held tight to his QB dreams, however, and transferred to El Camino College in California for the 2016 season. He started at QB during his one year in the junior college ranks but came to the realization that he didn't have a future at the position.
So he returned to Morgantown — and emerged as one of the most productive wide receivers in the nation. In 2017, he was named to numerous All-America teams as after catching 60 passes for 980 yards and a stunning 18 TDs, a number that tied for first nationally. After considering a jump to the NFL, Sills decided to return to WVU for his senior season.
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Athlon Sports caught up with him during the offseason.
So what's it like to literally be an All-American boy?
It's definitely pretty surreal, especially to be an All-American and represent the university. I think it's awesome because a lot people will remember me in the future when it comes to WVU football. It's what everyone grows up and dreams about. If you would have asked me five years ago, I never would have thought it would be as a receiver. But I'm excited about my senior year. I think we have a really good team and a lot of leadership.
How did you first hook up with WVU?
The first time was because two of my high school teammates, Daikiel Shorts and Wendell Smallwood, came here. They were two very good friends. I played on the varsity team in eighth grade, so I played with them three years and became really close. They went to WVU two years before I did. After the whole USC deal happened and [Lane] Kiffin got fired and [Steve] Sarkisian came in, I just kind of parted ways with them and had a couple offers to other places, but just felt at home at West Virginia. When I came up for visits, I always had a great time hanging with [Shorts and Smallwood] and the coaching staff. Also, I just loved the conference they're playing in. For an East Coast kid, it's not easy to go to the Big 12 and still be close to home. So I thought it was a great opportunity for me.
What was the most difficult part of the transition to wide receiver?
I think the hardest thing was transitioning the legs for stamina, to be able to sustain for the whole season. I think not training as a wide receiver the whole offseason as a freshman hurt me three or four games in. My legs kind of died out a little bit. They got a little heavy. So having the full offseason last year to train [as a receiver] helped my legs stay fresh. Now, with another, I should be able to improve.
That was the biggest thing. I pretty much already knew the routes. Learning technique was also hard, but Coach [Tyron] Carrier has done a great job teaching me that. I've tried to be a sponge and soak it all in.
Does being a former QB help you with the nuances of the position?
I think it does. I think it helps a lot with me and [QB] Will [Grier] being on the same page. Obviously, he has a lot more to look at out there than I do. He has to worry about protection and blitzes and stuff like that, while I'm looking at the back end of things. When we go to the sidelines, I'll talk to him and see what he sees and tell him what I think. We'll talk to [offensive coordinator Jake Spavital]. I think it helps a lot in finding the open voids of the defense. I think that showed in the Red Zone last year.
Almost one in every three of your receptions last year was a touchdown. What was the key to finding the end zone so often?
I think a lot of it was being on the same page with Will, knowing what he wants, where he wants me to be and where he expects me to be. It's kind of what we talked about in the last question: Knowing where the defenders are going to be. He gave me a lot of shots in the end zone. And when I'm in the end zone I try to do whatever I can to bring it down. He usually puts it in a really good spot, though, to make it easy on me.
What's better: Catching a TD or throwing one?
That's tough. I've never thrown a touchdown at this level, so I'd have to go with catching one. I've thrown touchdowns in high school, but it's not in the same atmosphere. Catching a touchdown at Mountaineer Field is an awesome experience.
How difficult was it to let go of being a quarterback?
My freshman year it was hard. I told Coach Holgorsen after the season, I wanted to go back to quarterback. During spring ball, I kind of was doing a little of both and not getting better at either. I was doing kind of half and half. So I decided to go to junior college. But after the junior college season, I wasn't really getting recruited as a quarterback. That's when I knew. It was kind of God shutting the door. So when I got the call from Coach Holgorsen to come back as a receiver, I dropped it like that [snaps finger] and haven't looked back.
When is the last time you've spoken to Lane Kiffin?
I think when I was getting recruited in high school, probably right before my senior year. We were doing a seven-on-seven in Alabama and won. I think that was the last time. I've talked to him on Twitter a couple times. And I think when an article came out on me last year he kind of tweeted at me, but it wasn't a full conversation.
How much has Will Grier being at WVU helped your career?
A tremendous amount. He contributes to most of my success as a receiver. He's a really good quarterback. I think he'll be the best in this year's class coming up. And he deserves it. He works as hard as anyone I've seen. He really has a great deal of commitment to this. He does all the mental and physical stuff and it pays off on the field. Him being back there [in the pocket] helps me get to being an All-American. Most of my success — if not all of it, geez — comes from him.
What went into the process of announcing you'd return to WVU for your senior season?
Most of it was us coming together as a team. We had a lot of guys eligible to leave and we all ended up staying for our senior year. Talking to those guys, talking to Will and Coach Spav and Coach Holg about how much better we can get … I've only been playing the receiver position for one full year. I thought another offseason could help me get better and prepared for the next level. But also we want to do something that's never been done at West Virginia — win a Big 12 championship and, hopefully, have a shot at the [College Football] Playoff next year. That's the vision, and I think we're on the right track.
Growing up, what NFL quarterback did you emulate, and is there now a pro wide receiver you watch?
Growing up I always liked to watch Brett Favre. I always loved watching Peyton Manning. My dad liked Peyton Manning a lot. I loved watching the Colts-Patriots rivalries when he was there. Now, I just kind of respect all the receivers. I don't really have just one I like to imitate. I kind of like to have my own game. I definitely like watching all the techniques though.
How good can this WVU offense be?
I think we can be very good. I think we can be really efficient. But we're focused not only on making the offense as good as we can, but being the best team. We've spent a good deal of time meeting among the players about how we can come together as a team. I think that will pay off. We're striving to be the best team we can be.
What Mountaineer might surprise fans this season?
There are a lot. I think our running backs — Kennedy [McKoy] and [Martell] Pettaway will be really good. I think they'll help us a lot and have breakout years.
What has Jake Spavital infused into the offense as coordinator?
Making sure we don't take plays off. He gives us opportunities to make plays and challenges us to make them. He wants us to worry about the team, not personal stats. He's done a great job of getting us in position to make plays. He's been working hard.
How would you describe Dana Holgorsen?
Coach Holg is kind of like the mad scientist behind it all. He kind of just pokes his head into different areas. He's probably forgotten more football than most people know. So he'll poke his head in, but he also has input. He sits in the offensive staff meetings and goes over the offense.
Have you already looked at Tennessee, your Week 1 opponent?
We've watched some Alabama film. That's where the Tennessee head coach came from.
What about West Virginia or WVU surprised you?
The commitment from the fan base, how loyal and passionate they are about Mountaineer football. Coming in, I didn't really know it. You kind of have to be here to experience it. It's pretty awesome on game day.