An unexpected positive COVID-19 test result only reinforced what David Sills learned at age 13: Football rarely offers a smooth ride.
Sills was a seventh-grade wunderkind when he committed to coach Lane Kiffin to play quarterback at USC in a recruiting move so surprising it warranted an interview on “Good Morning America.” So, it’s been a long and twisted road to becoming a breakout star receiver — “a guy you can trust,” as Daniel Jones put it — at Giants training camp.
“It was definitely something very different at the time,” Sills said of his commitment. “But I felt my parents put me in a good situation of raising me to handle whatever pressure anybody thought I had.
“I never thought it was putting a target on my back because my teammates were great growing up. I’m sure a lot of other people had mixed reviews about my decision, but I think it taught me perseverance and ultimately prepared me for where I am now.”
Where is he? Battling to survive the cut to a 53-man roster and become more than a footnote in Giants history: Sills was the first player placed on the new COVID-19 restricted list (July 28), quarantined and activated Aug. 4.
“When it first happened,” Sills said, “I was upset with myself that I was exposed to it when I thought I was being pretty safe.”
Because he reported to camp with mostly rookies a week before veterans, Sills didn’t miss any practice time and was able to participate in virtual meetings while adhering to safety protocol.
“I wouldn’t say it was scary,” Sills said. “I was a little shocked because I was asymptomatic, so I didn’t know I had contracted the virus in any way. I was like, ‘I have to be really cautious because I don’t want to get anybody else infected.’ Being a younger guy, I knew the chances were pretty high I would be able to get through it in the clear.”
Sills, 24, has been running in the clear all camp, including against the starting defense.
“This guy busts his butt every day,” coach Joe Judge said. “It’s no surprise he’s making plays and being productive.”
Partial credit goes to thinking like a quarterback. Old habits die hard.
“Especially at the NFL level,” Sills said, “you have to know where the holes in the defense are. It’s an advantage … taking the time in the offseason working together with Daniel and also showing on the field that you are on the same page with him — and trying it through the same lens as him so you are going to be where he thinks you are going to be.”
Sills never made it to USC and never got his shot as a college quarterback. He transferred high schools, de-committed after Kiffin was fired and two other quarterbacks were added to USC’s recruiting class, and wound up at West Virginia.
As Jets franchise quarterback Sam Darnold developed instead at USC, Sills imitated a tall receiver on West Virginia’s scout team and a position change was born out of coaches noticing the size and athleticism to get him on the field quicker. Years later, the 6-foot-3 Sills could be the ideal complement to Sterling Shepard, Golden Tate and Darius Slayton for Jones.
“Having size, with a DB on you and seeing a bigger [receiver], is something that’s friendly for the quarterback’s eyes and gives him a little extra trust to throw the ball,” Sills said. “Knowing every receiver position in the offense is something that’s very valuable to the team. I try to get the most opportunities I can to show off my skill set.”
Sills made 125 catches for 1,966 yards and 33 touchdowns in his final two seasons at West Virginia, but went undrafted in 2019 and spent last season on the Giants practice squad. Judge retaining receivers coach Tyke Tolbert helped Sills stick around.
“He’s a rep stealer,” Tolbert said. “He has his reps. If he sees guys running down the field, he’ll jump in there and say, ‘I got them.’ I like that about him. Doesn’t matter what position it is, he goes in there and executes his assignments.”