Monday, July 24, 2017

Will Grier’s competitive fire fuels positive life changes as he readies to lead Mountaineers

Chad Grier knew better than to call the punt team out on fourth down while his son, Will, was at the reins of his Davidson Day High School offense back in North Carolina. There was no need to panic, Will told his father, I got this.

Will Grier has taken that resolve and put it through the wringer since leaving Davidson Day High, going to the University of Florida, enduring a situation involving an over-the-counter substance that left him on the sidelines and taking him to West Virginia University before he sat out an entire season and watched the Mountaineers win 10 games a year ago.

Will Grier’s only 22 years old, but, man, has he seen a lot. He’s set to be West Virginia’s starting quarterback this season. He’s a father and a husband. And he finds a way to smile through it all. What’s more, his father, Chad, has watched it all unfold for his son.

‘PUMPED UP WITH PRIDE’

Chad Grier could only advise his son to do the right thing and then hope that he’d follow through.

In front of a crowd of reporters, Will Grier laid it all out on the line after being handed a yearlong suspension for taking an over-the-counter supplement that contained a banned substance, catapulting him from being the starting quarterback of the Top-10 ranked Florida Gators to not knowing if he’d find a way back on the field anytime soon.

“He loved Florida. He loved the kids there and everything about being a Gator, but that just took the wind out of his sails,” Chad said. “He would tell me, like always, ‘Dad, I’m good, I’m good.’ But he wasn’t good. He went to a tough place and it was hard to deal with. When you’re a kid and you’re the quarterback of a Top-10 ranked, undefeated team in that kind of environment, you’re on top of the world.

“Then he gets off the plane after Missouri about 3 o’clock in the morning and then by 3 o’clock in the afternoon, basically his career at Florida was over. That was a devastating time for him.”

Will had failed to get his supplement, purchased from a popular store among Florida players, checked by the team’s trainer, and it wound up containing an illegal substance. Chad Grier watched his son tear up on the podium as he owned up to the mistake.

“He’s given me a lot of reasons to be proud of him, but to that point that was probably the most proud I’ve been,” Chad said, thinking back on the situation from nearly two years ago. “It would have been easy to hide from that. He could have just said ‘no comment’ or say it was misinformation, but he owned it. He stood up and owned it. I think that was really hard, that process.”

Chad then gave his son some more advice. He laid out two options: Let the situation win and let it control your destiny or …

“Pick yourself up by your bootstraps and keep grinding away at it.

Will eventually decided to leave Florida, but it wasn’t easy.

After going 5-0 as Florida’s starting quarterback as a redshirt freshman, completing 106 of 161 passes for 1,204 yards and 10 touchdowns to just three interceptions, it was time for Will to find a new home.

“There’s no quick fix. He had to completely humble himself and go back to the beginning, sit and watch. But if you watched him on the sidelines during games last year, I think it’s twofold,” Chad explained. “Part of it was his own resolve and his competitive fire to get back and be the best he can be. The other part is just his respect for what’s going on at West Virginia. He genuinely likes everyone there, and he believes he’s a part of something. The way he’s treated well, he just wants to do well for the guys around him.

“Even if he wasn’t my son, I’d respect him for that. I’m pumped up with pride for that.”

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Will Grier led Florida to a 5-0 record before getting suspended. — USA TODAY

‘CHECKED ALL THE BOXES’

Will was never into the recruiting process, Chad said, whether it was coming out of high school or when he left Florida. He just searched for the school he thought was the best fit, pursued it and then closed the book.

Out of high school, Will fielded plenty of offers from top programs, but he only made one official visit. Then he committed to Florida and never looked back. When he left Florida and came into contact with West Virginia, he sealed the deal quickly. That was thanks in large part to Dana Holgorsen.

“It started with Dana. I had an hour-long conversation with him in December when Will was looking. From there, though, it was all Will. He and Will hit it off. Will and (Will’s wife) Jeanne went up, and it was snowing. It felt right, and it checked all the boxes,” Chad said. “It was an easy decision for him. Once he  got with Dana, he really didn’t pursue anything else.”

Will just fits at West Virginia, his dad said. Between the culture that Holgorsen has built between his staff and the players and the work ethic that West Virginia athletes are known for, Will had no issues.

“I think for Will, the switch to West Virginia has been incredible. The culture there and the chemistry with the staff and the players, I think it’s so much more in line with Will,” his father said. “Will’s not a real rah-rah guy. He’s much more of a blue-collar, down-to-Earth kid. Guys say they work seven days a week, no days off … that’s Will. He enjoys that process, and I think that’s very in line with the program that Dana’s built. Will’s been incredibly happy since he’s been there.”

Then, of course, you add in the hiring of Jake Spavital to take over as offensive coordinator, and you’ve got a match made in heaven, Chad said.

“You add Spav, and it just takes it to a different level. I think those two get along on a personal level and I think Will really respects Jake,” Chad said. “Dana basically said that he brought Spav in so Will can really be developed and continue to improve in a system that prepares him for successful Saturdays and beyond. Everything that’s happened with Will there has been positive.”

‘HE WANTS TO WIN’

What sets Will Grier apart, according to his father, is his competitive drive and the way he cares about his teammates.

“Above all, he wants to win. He’s fiercely competitive; and thats probably an understatement. He finds ways to win, and he wants to make the guys around him better,” Chad said. “If he struggles for a series or two, he forgets. He’s got a short memory. He’s going to come back and make a play. I mean, he just finds a way to make plays. He’s done that ever since he could pick up a ball. God gave him a skill set most of us didn’t get.”

Chad would often joke with Will that he didn’t know who his real father was because “he sure as heck” didn’t get his athletic skills from Chad, who played quarterback at East Carolina during his college days before starting the football program at Davidson Day and leading the school to four state titles in North Carolina in six years.

As a senior at Davidson Day, Will threw for 4,989 yards with a national-best 77 touchdowns. For his career, he amassed 14,565 yards and a state record 195 TD tosses. His yardage total was the second-best in North Carolina history, behind only Chris Leak. In 2012, he threw for 837 yards and 10 touchdowns in one game, setting the national record for single-game passing yardage.

And, oh yeah, his team only punted four times in 13 games when he was a senior.

“Fourth down was just another down to Will. He never shows when he feels pressure. He’s always been a special talent, but I think his competitiveness has always set him apart. He’s going to find a way to win,” Chad said. He just wins. He works. He enjoys the process of getting better and working hard at his craft. His leadership style is very much by example, from pop warner up. If they’re running sprints, he competes to be the first one. He competes at everything.”

To add to that, he ran for 2,955 yards and scored 31 times on the ground during his high school career. Chad said that Will became a runner because he wasn’t allowed to play defense.

“It started when he first put on pads. He likes contact, probably too much so. In high school, he wanted to play defense so bad. The linebacker coach wanted him to be a situational blitzer, the secondary coach wanted him to be a third-and-long pass defense specialist. They all wanted him on the field and I was like, ‘Man, you ain’t going out there,’” Chad said with a laugh. “Since we wouldn’t let him hit people on defense, he made sure on offense that he never went out of bounds or he would never slide. He was always seeking out contact.”

The contact makes ole dad a little nervous, still.

“We had to have a conversation when he went to Florida, and I said, ‘Look, man, you might want to start rethinking that whole jumping over people and running people over stuff. Get to the sideline and get down and take care of your body,’” he said. “He did a little better with it, but he can still make plays with his legs. The stereotype is that if he can stay in the pocket and throw it then that’s who he is. But he can make plays. Still, I hope — and pray — that he knows he’s got a daughter now and knows that he needs to get out of bounds.”

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Will Grier. — DALE SPARKS/ALL-PRO PHOTOGRAPHY/WVU

‘HE LOVES HIS LIFE’

Will Grier doesn’t go through his day like a normal 22-year-old college guy.

His alarm clock goes off before the sun comes up, prompting him to let his feet hit the ground and head toward his coffee maker before he heads off to work. His briefcase is a gym bag and his office is right down the hall from Holgorsen’s, somewhere in a meeting room or in the weight room. After he puts in his time at work, he comes home and puts on his daddy hat and sits down to dinner with his wife.

Then he wakes up the next day and does it all over again. From the start, though, he’s had a grip on this, Chad said.

“I think the Florida thing helped prepare him for all this,” his father offered. “I asked him, ‘What are you going to do?’ He said, ‘Dad, I love Jeanne, and I’m going to be a terrific husband.’ And he embraced fatherhood from day one. He’s an incredible father.’

Somewhere in between the abnormalness of his college life, Will Grier finds a way to make things work. It hasn’t been an easy ride. No, not at all. But Will Grier has taken what life has thrown at him and he’s worked it into a positive situation, his dad said. He wears many hats, but he’d have it no other way.

“I’m amazed,” Chad said. “There’s not a lot of kids his age in that position who handles that stuff with sincerity. He loves being a husband, a dad and a quarterback at West Virginia. He loves his life.”

(Feature photo credit: Dale Sparks/All-Pro Photography/WVU.) 

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