MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Dante Stills knows the Backyard Brawl. So do fellow West Virginia natives Zach Frazier, Wyatt Milum, and others.
So, too, does Bethel Park, Pennsylvania native James Gmiter.
Gmiter and Stills have a different relationship to the Backyard Brawl, though.
Stills grew up in a West Virginia football household. His father, Gary, suited up for two Backyard Brawls. The rivalry, and Mountaineer football, are in his blood.
Less than 30 days from now, he will get his one, and only, shot to play in one of the most historic rivalries in college football.
“I’ve been waiting on this my whole life,” Stills said Wednesday. “This game, this is big for all of us. This isn’t just like a team thing, this is a state thing. We, as a whole state, are looking forward to this game.”
Gmiter, meanwhile, admits he grew up caring much more about Steelers football than the Panthers, despite going to high school just 11.2 miles from where the University of Pittsburgh plays its home football games.
He knows multiple players on Pitt’s roster, having played against them in high school, or competed with or against them at various summer football camps.
He and the Mountaineers will battle some of those same players on September 1.
“They’re going to be the top (defensive line), so they say, in the country. But we feel like we’re going to be one of the top O-lines in the country, too,” Gmiter said. “I think the biggest thing is that they say they’re going to be the best. And we say we’re going to be the best. So, that’s the big motivation right there.”
Stills, a consensus four-star prospect, was offered a scholarship to play for the Panthers while he was in high school. Gmiter, a consensus three-star defensive tackle as a prep player, was not.
Pittsburgh had a 0.0 percent chance of either player signing with the program.
“Even if they would’ve offered, I never would’ve given them a thought,” said Gmiter, now a three-year veteran on the Mountaineer offensive line.
Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” was played loud through the speakers at WVU practice, Tuesday morning. When Diamond reached the chorus, the Mountaineers adjusted the lyrics the same way West Virginia fans have been doing so for decades.
It wasn’t just those inherently familiar with the rivalry – it was a collective effort in re-harmonizing the classic tune.
“It’s definitely a good opportunity for everybody on the team,” redshirt-sophomore running back Tony Mathis said. “A big game – rival – that (goes) way back, before I was born. So, I know it’s a big game to the fans, especially us.”
That was the second part of Mathis’ answer to the question, how much do you know about Pitt?
The first part of his answer: “That we don’t like them. I know that.”
Like Mathis and many other Mountaineer players, Taijh Alston is also getting his first taste of the Backyard Brawl. With the game being both teams’ season opener, the anticipation for the game has been building since January.
As the game gets closer, noise from both sides will increase.
Alston, coming off a season worthy of a Mayo Clinic Comeback Player of the Year Honorable Mention selection, won’t be listening.
“I just keep my head down and work,” said Alston. “Like, I’m not really with all that talking. So, you’ll see September 1st. And I’m just working every day.”
West Virginia put pads on for the first time at camp on Wednesday. The intensity in practices will rachet up in the days ahead.
West Virginia will hold its first intrasquad scrimmage of the fall on Thursday. As Neal Brown said earlier this week, the Mountaineers will scrimmage on Thursdays, because they open the season on a Thursday.