In September, Will Grier will finally get to play quarterback again.
By the time West Virginia plays Virginia Tech in a nationally-televised game Sept. 3, it will be nearly two years since Grier has played a down in a football game that counts.
“I just feel blessed,” Grier said this week in an interview with West Virginia’s athletic department, which won’t make him available for media interviews until after the season starts. “I mean, it’s God’s plan and I’m really excited to be a part of this new opportunity with West Virginia.
“They gave me a second chance and I’m going to take advantage of it.”
Grier graduated from Mecklenburg County’s Davidson Day School in May 2014 and red-shirted his first year of college football at Florida. In the fall of 2015, he was the Gators’ starter and a media darling, leading Florida to a 6-0 start and a top 10 national ranking.
Then, everything changed.
Grier failed a drug test because of a banned supplement, and he eventually left Florida feeling unwanted.
What followed were some of the toughest months of his 22-year-old life.
It all fell apart
When he coached his son in high school, Chad Grier rarely saw Will do anything other than succeed.
At Davidson Day, Will Grier became one of the nation’s top high school quarterbacks. He once passed for 837 yards and 10 touchdowns in a game, and passed for 14,565 yards and 195 touchdowns in his career. He was named Parade Magazine national high school player of the year as a senior.
And when Will played at Florida, success continued. In the first game of his redshirt freshman year in 2015, Grier threw for 166 yards and two touchdowns. He was named the starter afterward. In his fourth start, Grier led Florida to a 28-27 win against rival Tennessee in a game the Gators trailed 27-14 with five minutes to play. He completed 23-of-43 passes for 283 yards and two touchdowns, including a 63-yard score to Antonio Callaway on fourth-and-14 with 86 seconds left.
A college football star was in the making. Chad Grier said he blinked and Florida was beating Missouri to improve to 6-0.
Then it all fell apart.
Chad Grier said he blinked again and saw his son stumble to the lowest point of his life.
“They were No. 8 in the country, undefeated, and the Swamp was alive,” Chad Grier recalled. “It was such an exciting period. He gets off a plane from Missouri around three in the morning on this high and at 3 that afternoon, he’s calling me from (Florida) coach (Jim) McElwain’s office.”
Will Grier’s voice was shaking.
“Dad, I don’t know what’s going on,” Chad Grier recalls his son saying. “They say I failed a drug test and I’m suspended.”
That was October 2015. The NCAA suspended him for a year and upheld the suspension after Grier appealed.
Grier decided to transfer in the spring of 2016 and sat out the 2016 season per NCAA transfer rules.
Via a first-person account he wrote from Bleacher Report last year, Will Grier offered his side of what happened.
He said he took a supplement on the advice of a nutrition store employee to gain weight. Grier went from 188 pounds when he arrived on Florida’s campus to 210. But he said the new supplement, Lingadrol, was - unbeknownst to him - on the NCAA’s banned list.
His life, so structured and stable before, was in tatters.
Uplifted by new school, family
Chad Grier said watching his son deal with leaving Florida was tough.
“I was really proud that he owned his mistake,” said Grier, now head coach at Oceanside High near Charleston. “But he went to a dark place. His whole life was pulled from underneath him. That would be hard for me to handle as an adult. And as much as he wanted to tell me everything was fine, he struggled with that.
“But I respect him that he battled through that and came out the other side with a great sense of peace and contentment and he’s genuinely happy. He’s as happy as I’ve ever seen him.”
Part of that was finding what Chad Grier said was the perfect school. West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen and Will hit it off immediately, the father said. Will also got married about a year ago. Jeanne Grier was a former Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleader who Will met at Florida when she came to Gainesville to finish her degree. The couple welcomed their first child, 7-month-old Eloise, whose nickname is Ellie.
Will Grier and his family live in a townhouse that he rents off campus.
“She was there for him in his dark days and their relationship is really strong,” Chad Grier said. “It’s a friendship as much as anything. You want your kids to marry their best friend.”
With Ellie and Jeanne, and with football, Will Grier has a familiar routine back in his life, his father said.
“We call it going to work,” Chad Grier said. “He gets up early, makes his coffee, kisses his wife and baby goodbye and goes to his office. It just happens to be the field house. He goes to work and loves it.
“He tells me, ‘Dad, I’ve been to college. But this is business.’ ”
Virginia Tech on his mind
In April, Grier played in West Virginia’s spring game. He completed 12-of-18 passes for 202 yards while playing every other possession for three quarters. One of the highlights was a 60-yard pass to redshirt junior wide receiver Ricky Rogers, who nearly scored.
All signs point to Grier being the starter.
And Chad Grier said the player West Virginia is getting is much better than the one who threw for 1,204 yards and 10 touchdowns in six games at Florida.
“I don’t think he’s anything but confident to play,” Chad Grier said of his son. “I think he can do anything he wants to. Sometimes you see kids like that. He just finds a way to win, finds a way to compete and come out on top, and that’s when the story’s going to end, with him on top.”
As for Will Grier, he’s ready for the opener.
“I’m obviously excited to get out there against Virginia Tech,” he said, “but the spring game was awesome, to compete with my teammates in front of the fans, the people that support us. It was a great experience. But I can’t wait for Virginia Tech.”
Away from the field for so long, Will Grier will finally get his shot at redemption.
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr