Why did Charlotte's Will Grier return to WVU? For one more ride ... and Sept. 1.

West Virginia quarterback Will Grier (7) scrambles to avoid a Texas Tech defender in October of 2017 (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson).
West Virginia quarterback Will Grier (7) scrambles to avoid a Texas Tech defender in October of 2017 (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson).

When West Virginia’s Will Grier takes his first snap this fall, he’ll do so as a brother, a husband, a father and one of the best returning quarterbacks in college football. He’ll need a new nickname, though.

Gone is Grier’s shoulder-length hair, a style that prompted Mountaineer fans to anoint him “Touchdown Jesus” during the 2017 season. In its place is a simple crew cut.

“When I wasn’t wearing a helmet, it didn’t look so good,” Grier said. “So it was about time for me to cut that off.”

Pre-game at the Charlotte Touchdown Club luncheon. #ProudDad #LetsGoMountaineers

A post shared by Chad Grier (@coachgrier7) on

Besides that haircut, and the new nickname that will inevitably come with it, little has changed for Grier. He’s back at West Virginia for his final year of eligibility, and his second under coach Dana Holgorsen. Same offense; same receivers.

And on Sept. 1, for the first time since graduating from Davidson Day School in 2014, Grier will play college football in North Carolina. West Virginia is scheduled to take on Tennessee in Bank of America Stadium — a game that was part of Holgorsen’s recruiting pitch to Grier, and is now months away from finally happening.

“It’s unbelievable,” Grier said. “Obviously, this is home, so it’s got a special place in my heart. It’s going to be a great atmosphere. Bank of America is a beautiful stadium. It’s about as good as it gets.”

A few months ago, Grier faced a decision that could've made such a homecoming impossible. In November of 2017, he broke the middle finger of his throwing hand against Texas. His season was over, so he and Holgorsen immediately began to discuss what was next: the 2018 NFL Draft.

“We had quite a bit of talks,” Holgorsen said. “This wasn’t something I was going to ignore. We attacked it pretty vigorously, really starting once after he got hurt. … I had a lot of talks with his dad and his family, and his wife and him as well."

The decision came within a month. On Dec. 14, Grier announced that he would return to West Virginia, skipping a draft that saw five quarterbacks picked in the first round. To him, there were plenty of reasons to do so.

“I’ve got a good offense coming back, got great coaches and it’s honestly just a lot of fun to play college football, especially for West Virginia,” he said. “The fans are awesome. There’s no reason to really leave.”

'And here we are'

Since entering the Big 12 ahead of the 2012 season, West Virginia has yet to win a conference title. The Mountaineers have high expectations this year — and a healthy Grier is the main reason.

In 11 games, the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year threw for 3,490 yards and 34 touchdowns. He was the first West Virginia player to throw for five touchdowns in back-to-back games, and led the team to a 7-3 record before leaving the team’s 11th game, against Texas, in the first quarter.

Even though his first season was cut short by almost three games, Grier’s name already pops up in the West Virginia record book. He recorded the second-most touchdown passes, fourth-most passing yards and fifth-most completions in a single season, all on a 64.4 completion percentage.

Two of Grier’s top targets from 2017 are back with him. Gary Jennings Jr. caught 97 passes for 1,096 yards, and David Sills V, a converted quarterback, racked up 980 yards and an eye-popping 18 touchdowns. Holgorsen says Sills “is the same guy” as Grier and calls their relationship special; Grier calls the senior receiver one of his best friends.

“He’s really an amazing player and an amazing person,” Grier said. “I feed off his work ethic. It’s a pleasure playing with that guy.”

His rapport with Holgorsen is special, too. Both light up when talking about the other. Grier visits for dinner frequently, and he’s become a close friend and mentor of Holgorsen’s son, Logan, a rising high school senior quarterback and North Texas commit. Holgorsen calls former Davidson Day coach Chad Grier, Will’s father, the biggest lover of football he’s ever met.

How their relationship began may hint at why it’s so strong today. In October of 2015, when Grier was starting at Florida, the NCAA gave him a one-year suspension for violating its performance-enhancing drugs policy. He announced his intent to transfer that December.

Big 12 Media Days 11.JPG
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen took a chance when he recruited Will Grier after the NCAA gave him a year-long PED suspension. Two and a half years later, Holgorsen and Grier have West Virginia in position for a run at its first Big 12 title. Ron T. Ennis/Special to the Star-Telegram

Holgorsen then began to recruit Grier, when the quarterback was at his lowest. In April of 2016, Grier announced his transfer to West Virginia. He sat out his first year to fulfill transfer rules, and set the Big 12 aflame in his second. Now, he looks prepared to break school records in his third.

The suspension, he says, “doesn’t exist in my mind.”

“He gave me a chance and believed in me, and I believed in him,” Grier said of Holgorsen. “And here we are.”

'He's processing everything'

When Grier was hurt near the end of last season, Holgorsen had never seen an injury affect an entire team more. Now, the coach is putting an emphasis on keeping Grier out of harm’s way, with strategic playcalls and a veteran offensive line he feels confident can protect his 6-foot-2, 214-pound quarterback.

Will Grier DDS
As a senior at Davidson Day School, Will Grier threw for 4,989 yards and 77 touchdowns; won a NCISAA Division II state championship; and was named Parade National Player of the Year. Jeff Willhelm

The main focus for Grier this season is efficiency — completion percentage, touchdowns to interceptions, third-down conversion rates, clock management. Through spring practices, Grier says he can already feel the game slowing down. Holgorsen isn’t surprised — he saw the same thing happen with fifth-year senior Baker Mayfield last year, under the coaching of his good friend Lincoln Riley.

“Going into your last year, everything’s so slow,” Holgorsen said. “I can just see with Will right now, through practice, he’s processing everything. Things are slow for him.”

Among many on-field reasons for motivation, Grier has two more off of it — his wife, Jeanne, and his 18-month-old daughter, Eloise. The 23-year-old Grier, who is already drawing Heisman and NFL draft hype, knows that professional football is in his future. And playing the sport he loves to support his family? Well, that’s about as good as it gets.

A post shared by Will Grier (@willgrier7) on

“She’s changed a lot in me,” Grier said of his daughter. “I don’t have a whole lot of free time, but just spending time with her is amazing. It really puts things into perspective, shows you what’s important in life.”

A summer away from his last season opener, Grier is poised for a final season to remember. He’s a mentor, a husband and father. He has a professional career in front of him, a coach to get him there and a family to drive him.

On Sept. 1, Grier will take his first snap in North Carolina since he left Davidson Day four years ago. A lot has happened since then, but one thing is for sure.

In Morgantown, Grier has found a second home.

Chapel Fowler: 704-358-5612; @chapelfowler