West Virginia’s Will Grier is a pro. He just happens to be in college.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Will Grier can’t remember when he stopped getting questions about why he cut his hair, though he can’t say if that’s because the short crop suits him just as well as last season’s shoulder-length tresses or if it’s because he talks to so many reporters nowadays he can’t keep the timeline straight.
Nevertheless, his answer hasn’t changed. Grier’s mountain-man look was more of a phase, something he started just to see how long he could keep it up, he explained Saturday after West Virginia’s 35-6 win over Kansas State. Now, his coif and neatly trimmed beard make it look like he should be working on Wall Street, not slinging 372.3 yards per game for the Mountaineers.
“This way is just way more me,” he said.
— Stadium (@WatchStadium) September 25, 2018
There’s a reason Grier registers more as a polished professional than college kid. He has been in the national consciousness since 2015 as a redshirt freshman at Florida. At 23, many of the classmates he graduated with this past spring are in the real world working, so it feels natural to talk about this season like it’s the start of his career rather than the end of a journey.
Grier has to be a grown-up off the field, too: He’s married and has a 22-month-old daughter, Eloise.
That’s why West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen isn’t worried about the attention Grier is receiving in the final season of his five-year college football odyssey. Before the season, ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. rated Grier as the second-best NFL draft prospect at his position. Three wins later he is among the favorites for the Heisman Trophy, with the betting site Bovada putting his odds to win at 13-2. The Mountaineers have launched a full-tilt Heisman campaign for the North Carolina native, complete with a TV spot on ESPN’s “College GameDay” the morning of their Big 12 opener last weekend.
“Yeah, I’m not worried about overloading him,” Holgorsen said Saturday. “He’s mature, he’s grounded, he’s comfortable with where he’s at … he’s a professional that’s in college.”
Grier is the center of the most talented group Holgorsen has had since he took over the program in 2011. The quarterback threw for an 3,490 yards and 34 touchdowns in 11 games last year, his first season of eligibility in Morgantown, before an injured middle finger derailed his season.
Top 25 prospects 2.0! (via @MoveTheSticks + @BuckyBrooks )SIX QBs in the top 20, including @oregonfootball ‘s Justin Herbert and @WVUfootball ‘s @willgrier_ .FULL RANKINGS: https://t.co/RU3pD8ZDim pic.twitter.com/fTHEnFGchM
— NFL Draft (@NFLDraft) September 25, 2018
He returned to a much roomier college football landscape. With Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen off to the pros, the redshirt senior has space to shine. He has completed 71 of 95 passes for 1,117 yards and 14 touchdowns with three interceptions for No. 12 West Virginia (3-0, 1-0 Big 12), which will travel to face No. 25 Texas Tech (3-1, 1-0) this weekend. He’s got the second-best passing efficiency rating (230.5) in the nation behind Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa.
Grier can be a human highlight real when he wants to. The game against Kansas State marked the fifth time in his college career he threw five touchdown passes, including an 82-yard bomb and a slightly more modest 62-yard strike that had the stands at Milan Puskar Stadium shaking just the same.
Will Grier with the 82 yard BOMB to Marcus Simms! WVU strikes first and lead K-State 7-0 pic.twitter.com/2t5wuPXaaH
— Barstool Big 12 (@BarstoolBig12) September 22, 2018
That’s the stuff that draws ESPN. But along with his slingshot of an arm comes a well-honed football mind — Grier had a head start on that, as the son of a football coach — and natural discipline.
Every day, the quarterback rises with his daughter around 7:30 a.m. in their house tucked away in a Morgantown neighborhood. He spends the morning with her, then drives 10 minutes to the stadium to work out, review tape, sit in meetings and get his online graduate classes done, hustling to make it home before his toddler goes to bed.
“I have an opportunity to play this game at the next level and provide for my family, so it’s different than when I was young in college,” Grier said.
“I treat this like a job, and I’ve tried to influence some guys that this is a team that could be really good and if you take it seriously and prepare and act like a pro. Those are the guys that end up playing in the league.”
The will to work has always come easily, but his comfort in front of the media was hard earned. He forged that by defending himself in the press in the wake of a yearlong suspension in 2015 for violating the NCAA’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs while a redshirt freshman at Florida.
Grier said he took an over-the-counter supplement he thought was clean but didn’t check with Florida’s training staff. After the suspension Grier said he was ostracized from the team. It eventually led to a messy split from Florida and coach Jim McElwain that forced Grier to grow up.
“We never got a clinical diagnosis, but in hindsight, he struggled mighty with that. If he wasn’t depressed, he certainly had a lot of symptoms of it,” Grier’s father, Chad, said.
“I think it affected him as a man. I think going through that made him mature in ways most kids his age don’t have to. He had to deal with a lot of criticism from people who didn’t understand … he owned it, he dealt with the consequences and moved on. That’s about as great a life lesson as he could ever have learned.”
Whatever level of notoriety or fame Grier has seen in his career, it’s nothing compared to his younger brothers.
Nash Grier, 20, first made a name for himself as a teen on the now-defunct video platform Vine, viral stardom he parlayed into a career as a digital influencer with 9.9 million Instagram followers. Little brother Hayes, 18, has 5.5 million Instagram followers and became the youngest ever male contestant on “Dancing With The Stars” in 2015 — the same year Will was thrust into the spotlight.
Chad likes to tell of the time the family was in Times Square after Will was named Parade magazine’s player of the year as a high school senior and the family was mobbed.
“Hordes of people screaming for Nash,” Chad said. “Will and I played bodyguard.”
— ESPN (@espn) September 22, 2018
Experiences like that give Grier perspective — the attention he’s getting this season is nothing to his family. Their father argues that Nash’s and Hayes’ fame also gives Will a leg up: The family has practice selecting agents and handling career-defining decisions like the ones that await Grier after the season.
Savvy though he is, Grier insists he isn’t focused on selling himself to the NFL in his last year in college. His focus is on winning at West Virginia.
“At the end of the day, the NFL teams should fall in love with me based on who I am as a person, what I can offer them and what this game means to me,” Grier said. “But that’s something that’s second right now to what I can do for this program, and that’s win football games. That’s my job right now.”