With Grier at QB, The Excitement Now Begins

  • By John Antonik
  • |
  • April 19, 2017 05:15 PM
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Now that spring practice has officially concluded, the door swings open to the anticipation season leading into the start of every fall football camp in August.
 
Various forms of media help energize (or temper) the anticipation college football fans experience heading into the early summer months when those annual college football magazines reach your local grocery stores, bookstores and newsstands.
 
Then, anticipation reaches its peak in mid-July when the Power 5 conferences begin having their media days.
 
At West Virginia University, fueling a higher-than-usual level of optimism this summer will be the availability of Will Grier, probably the most eagerly anticipated quarterback transfer to play at WVU since Jeff Hostetler in 1982.
 
“I think he’s as good as advertised,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said earlier this week. “He’s proven he’s a winning quarterback. He’s a coach’s kid. He’s smart and it means a lot to him.”
 
Exactly when Grier will be able to suit up for the Mountaineers is still not clear, although Holgorsen indicated he’s not worrying about it.
 
“There is a time table that I am not aware of and have been told not to worry about, so I’m not worried about it,” he said. “He’s doing everything he’s supposed to do from a compliance point of view and I think it’s going to take care of itself.”
 
Grier’s prep accomplishments alone make him probably the most highly touted football player in school history.
 
The son of former East Carolina backup quarterback Chad Grier, who was on the Pirates’ roster when the Mountaineers defeated ECU, 30-10, in 1988, Will Grier virtually rewrote the North Carolina prep record book while playing for his father at Davidson Day High in Davidson, North Carolina.
 
He set a national scholastic record by passing for 837 yards with 10 touchdowns in Day’s amazing 104-80 playoff victory over Harrells Christian in 2012.
 
The two-time North Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year finished his high school career by throwing for 14,565 yards, ranking second in North Carolina history behind former Florida quarterback Chris Leak, and the 77 touchdown passes he tossed during his senior season in 2013 led the nation.
 
For his efforts, Grier was named Parade Magazine and Maxwell National Player of the Year and was selected Mr. Football USA by StudentSports.com. In the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, he passed for 109 yards, including a 51-yard toss that resulted in the longest play of the game.
 
Grier picked Florida over Arkansas, Auburn, North Carolina, Tennessee and Wake Forest for his college choice.
 
Following a redshirt year in 2014 when Gator coach Will Muschamp was replaced by Colorado State’s Jim McElwain, Grier emerged as Florida’s top quarterback at the beginning of the 2015 season, winning a hotly contested battle with Treon Harris and Luke Del Rio during training camp.
 
Although he was never listed as Florida’s starter, it was Grier’s clutch fourth-down passing that led to a 28-27 victory over Tennessee, which preceded his best performance as a Gator a week later when he threw for 271 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-10 victory against Ole Miss.
 
It was obvious to Florida fans that Grier was hitting his stride when his decision, which he has since called “dumb” and “avoidable,” to take a banned over-the-counter supplement that he had purchased from a health store led to his suspension by the NCAA.
 
The supplement showed up during a random team-administered drug test and Grier was notified shortly after the Ole Miss game that his suspension would last the entire season.
 
According to Matt Hayes’ Bleacher Report story on Grier last fall, the quarterback requested two meetings with McElwain to get a feel for where he stood in the Gator program. Both meetings ultimately weren’t satisfactory to both parties and Grier indicated McElwain suggested that it might be best for him to get a fresh start somewhere else.
 
Grier, whose six-game stint was the most productive of any Gator quarterback since Tim Tebow, was back on the market and his cell phone soon blew up.
 
Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and Oregon’s Mark Helfrich were the most persistent callers, but Grier had grown enamored with Dana Holgorsen’s reputation of developing quarterbacks, and it was Holgorsen’s willingness to stick with him through the entire suspension process, no matter how long it lasted, that ultimately won him over.
 
Grier also had a chance encounter with former Mountaineer quarterback and Florida State transfer Clint Trickett that helped steer him in West Virginia’s direction as well.
 
When Grier arrived in Morgantown last May, he immediately won over the locker room with his easy-going demeanor, his charisma and a willingness to help the team get better.
 
“That quarterback gene is always good to have in your locker room because they’re the ones that kind of rally the troops, cultivate relationships and get everyone pointed in the right direction,” Holgorsen noted.
 
Grier’s performance on the scout team last year drew even more praise from the coaching staff.
 
His skills as a pocket passer were clear from the outset, and his development last fall in Holgorsen’s system has transferred seamlessly into what Jake Spavital wants to accomplish as West Virginia’s new offensive coordinator - Holgorsen’s first since taking over WVU’s head coaching reins six years ago.
 
Spavital has experience working with high-level quarterbacks, starting with Geno Smith for one season here in 2012 and then with Johnny Manziel during his Heisman Trophy campaign at Texas A&M in 2015.
 
“He’s pretty much what I thought he was going to be,” Spavital said. “I’m just starting to figure out what type of routes he likes to throw and what he’s capable of doing.”
 
When that happens, the Holgorsen-Spavital-Grier relationship could give West Virginia’s offense a dimension it has not had since Smith was rewriting the school record book in 2012.
 
Grier, like Smith, is a little bit taller than some of the recent quarterbacks West Virginia has had and those physical attributes might be able to open up some things in the passing game that weren’t always available the last couple of years.
 
For instance, nobody throws over a 6-foot-5-inch defensive lineman with his arms up, but while a shorter quarterback needs to move to the point where he can see what is developing down the field, a taller quarterback can at least see portions of what’s happening beyond where he’s standing to where he can shuffle his feet enough to make a quick, accurate throw.
 
“He’s definitely something new to the program that we really appreciate,” senior offensive guard Kyle Bosch said. “He’s a different style of quarterback than we’ve had in the past. He’s a pocket guy and not a scrambler.”
 
A 2009 Bleacher Report story titled “The Quarterback Position: Does Size Matter?” determined that quarterbacks standing 6-feet-2 inches or taller had a higher overall completion percentage than quarterbacks standing less than that.
 
The article speculated that quarterbacks generally the same height or taller than the linemen in front of them had a cleaner line of sight and better passing lanes, and because of arm trajectory, they can make certain throws their shorter counterparts can’t. For example, think a Peyton Manning or Tom Brady dart thrown over the top to a receiver’s ankles that shorter quarterbacks such as Drew Brees and Russell Wilson cannot make.
 
This is not to imply that shorter quarterbacks cannot be successful, because we know there are many, many examples of shorter quarterbacks performing well in the college and pro games today, but taller quarterbacks do have some advantages.
 
That’s why college coaches seek them and the pros still covet them.
 
As a result, there are some things the taller Grier is capable of bringing back into the mix in West Virginia’s offense, which could ultimately nudge the Mountaineers back toward the direction of Holgorsen’s wildly productive days operating his “Air Raid” attacks at Houston and Oklahoma State, as well as his first couple of seasons at West Virginia with Smith.
 
“As far as arm strength and accuracy, he can make all the throws,” Holgorsen admitted.
 

Will Grier gives a high-five to a young Mountaineer fan at the conclusion of last Saturday's Gold-Blue Spring Game. All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo
Toss in a well-stocked running back room with four outstanding ball carriers, including a returning 1,000-yard rusher capable of scoring from anywhere on the field, tight ends and fullbacks that can allow Spavital to go big when he needs to, proven wide receivers and a pair of athletic tackles to protect Grier’s backside, and you can now see why Holgorsen believes this could be his most talented offensive football team at West Virginia.
 
And in place to stir it all together is a transfer quarterback in what is becoming an era of transfer quarterbacks. Everyone has quarterbacks on their rosters, but that doesn’t mean they always have the right quarterbacks on their rosters.
 
That’s why Oklahoma took former Texas Tech walk-on Baker Mayfield.
 
That’s why Florida State sought Notre Dame’s Everett Golson, Alabama poached Florida State’s Jacob Coker and even a blue blood program such as Michigan went the transfer route at quarterback in 2015 by taking Iowa’s Jake Rudock.
 
Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham, who began his career at Baylor, will likely rival Grier as college football’s most prominent quarterback transfer in 2017.
 
West Virginia fans who saw Grier’s 12-of-18, 202-yard passing performance in basically two quarters of action during last Saturday’s spring game are certainly eager to see what he can do this fall in Holgorsen’s offense.
 
“It’s been fun to watch him back there this spring and it was fun to watch him in the spring game give everybody a little bit of a glimpse of what he’s capable of,” Holgorsen said. “We’ve got pretty good players around him with a good run game, some quality receivers and a fairly seasoned offensive line. Hopefully, we’ll score a few more points this year.”
 
So, the anticipation begins.