The 126 years of the Backyard Brawl have contained everything, including a wealth of family legacy.
In that respect, the 2022 edition of the Brawl picks up right where it left off 11 years ago. Two Mountaineers — Dante Stills and Bryce Ford-Wheaton — will carry their family’s standard onto the field at Acrisure Stadium, adding one more generation of competitors to the historic rivalry series.
Stills, the son of former WVU star Gary Stills, has faded memories of the game. The 22-year-old linebacker was 11 when the game was last played, but he of course knows the weight of the matchup as a fifth-year student at WVU.
“I really just want to be like, ‘I’m so excited’ like as a kid, but I can’t do that,” Stills said. “I am excited, this is definitely a game I’ve always wanted to play in.”
Gary Stills played in three Brawls from 1996-98, taking two blowout wins in the Steel City and a narrow loss in Morgantown. His stint came in the midst of WVU’s recent domination of Pitt, as the Mountaineers have taken 15 wins in the last 22 meetings.
The father and son have been in contact in the lead-up, but no amount of conversation will mean much until Thursday.
“He’s told me what this game is and how big it is and stuff like that, but you can only say so much,” Dante said. “I won’t really get the full effect until kickoff.”
Ford-Wheaton, a wide receiver for WVU, beats out his teammate in the legacy department on Thursday. He will be a third-generation Brawler when he takes the field. His grandfather, Garrett Ford Sr., played running back for WVU from 1965-67, facing the Panthers twice in that span and earning a win and a loss.
Ford Sr. had a career game against Pitt in WVU’s win in 1965, rushing for 192 rushing yards, 76 receiving yards and three total touchdowns (not to mention his 73 kickoff return yards to boot.).
“He’s talked about it before, I mean he had a really good game against Pitt…I just watched the DVD of it, actually,” Ford-Wheaton said. “My grandmother sent it up to me so I watched it, I put it in my PS5 and I was surprised it worked. I seen him firsthand, and yeah, he went off.”
Ford Sr. had a solid performance in 1966 as well, running for 182 yards and both of WVU’s touchdowns in a 17-14 loss.
Garrett Ford Jr., Ford-Wheaton’s uncle, also played tailback for the Mountaineers from 1989-92 and maintained a winning record in the series.
Now a redshirt junior, Ford-Wheaton is focused on Pitt, and hopes to replicate the success of his uncle and grandfather on the field.
“We haven’t really played in a rivalry game here, but the preparation doesn’t change,” Ford-Wheaton said. “It’s not like our effort is going to, you know, change, or we’re going to put in more effort to win the game It’s always 100 percent, every time.”