A year in PED purgatory

I was the starting quarterback for one of the best teams in college football. Then one mistake changed everything.

By Will Grier, as told to Matt Hayes

October 13, 2016

Bleacher Report

Rob Foldy / Getty Images

A top-five program devoid of quarterback talent. A can't-miss pro-style QB recruit everyone wanted. It seemed like the perfect marriage. And for six weeks during the 2015 season, it was. Redshirt freshman Will Grier's college career was off to a 6-0 start, and Florida was ranked in the Top 10. Then one dumb—and avoidable—mistake ended it all.

A year later, Grier has all but disappeared from the national college football consciousness. He took an NCAA-banned performance-enhancing drug, got caught, was suspended for a calendar year in October 2015, quietly transferred to West Virginia and hasn't spoken a word about any of it publicly. Until now.

As he comes off the suspension, Grier spoke to Bleacher Report about coming to grips with it all. How it happened. How his future at Florida disappeared. And how he found a safe, comfortable spot at West Virginia, where head coach Dana Holgorsen says he has been a leader in practice and a "great presence in the locker room"—and where he could be back in games as soon as the first game of the 2017 season (or the seventh game if an appeal to the NCAA to waive his transfer year is unsuccessful).

This is his story, in his words, edited for length and clarity.


Sometimes I catch myself staying up at night, thinking about everything that has happened over the last year.

I'm not usually that kind of guy. Someone who lives in the past. I've always been focused on the future. I'm a planner, an organizer. I write things down because you can visually check them off and see progress. Writing things down is a lost art. I've got sticky notes all over my apartment.

But I do think about the last year probably more than I should—even though I couldn't be more excited about my future here at West Virginia with my teammates and with Dana. I can't wait for the 2017 season to begin.

Because this last year has felt like forever.

I thought I was doing very well at Florida. Then I get suspended. Then my head coach tells me to transfer.

I was in a dark place and depressed. ... There are times when I lay awake at night and wonder how it went so wrong.

I was in a dark place and depressed. I didn't think I was any good. I didn't know if I would ever play the game again. I lost a lot of confidence. I thought I wasn't worth a s--t.

There are times when I lay awake at night and wonder how it went so wrong. I've lost sleep over it. Many, many nights of sleep.

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David Stephenson / AP Photo

There have been so many stories out there about me, so many untruths. I've always believed you can only control what you can control. I can control my attitude, my effort, my commitment to West Virginia. I can't control lies.

When I first arrived at Florida, I weighed 188 pounds at my first physical, and I weighed 210 when I started my redshirt freshman season. That's a weight gain of 22 pounds from January 2014 to September 2015. The story that I gained 40-something pounds just isn't true. It's laughable.

When I first met with the training staff at Florida and with Coach (Will) Muschamp, the idea was to put on smart weight and keep my athletic ability. I just wasn't physically ready for the pounding quarterbacks take at this level. So we decided I would redshirt and try to bulk up for 2015.

I wasn't eating anything special. My roommate (kicker Austin Hardin) and I were obsessive about eating healthy—you know, grilled chicken, vegetables and things like that. Lots of Gatorade protein drinks. I wasn't throwing down McDonald's.  

Then Coach Muschamp gets fired and the new staff comes in, and we're basically on the same regimen. But because Austin and I were obsessed with eating healthy, we noticed that those Gatorade drinks are loaded with sugar and carbs. There's nothing wrong with them, but we didn't want that in our bodies.

So we went to a store in Gainesville called Total Nutrition and got some protein powder. We used that for a few months, and it seemed to work. I was putting on smart weight and was feeling healthier and more fit than I ever had. The third time we went in to buy the powder, in June 2015, the associate behind the counter, who knew us because we had been in there before, said, "You guys should try this." It was called Ligandrol.

He said it was a new thing that helped your muscles take in more protein and helped them recover faster. So we went home, and the first thing we did was look on the internet. We're not stupid; we wanted to look it up and make sure it was all clear. I looked at every NCAA site, and many other sites, to see if it was healthy for you. I wasn't going to put anything in my body that wasn't legal and wasn't healthy.

I checked each ingredient on the bottle to see if it was on the NCAA banned list. I did my research and was confident in it. What I didn't do is ask the trainers at Florida if it was cleared. I still don't know why I didn't. It's no one's fault but mine.

Ligandrol was not on the list of banned substances. But we came to find out—after our appeal to the NCAA—that it was added in August of that year. So I feel like I was given a year suspension for not telling the trainers what I was taking, and if I did tell them, they would've told me then that it wasn't on the list.

Editor's note: Ligandrol was not specifically named on any NCAA banned list until 2016-2017, but each year the NCAA's list of banned drugs clearly states, "Note to Student-Athletes: There is no complete list of banned substances. Do not rely on this list to rule out any supplement ingredient. Check with your athletics department staff prior to using a supplement." NCAA spokesman Chris Radford told Bleacher Report, "Ligandrol has never been allowed. Any substance that is chemically related to the anabolic agents class, even if it is not specifically listed as an example, is banned."

I was going through the season with no idea what could happen. Then in October, after I started and won five games, I was on the drug-test list. I had never been on the list before. They said I was randomly chosen.

Andy Lyons / Getty Images

I went to the test and had no idea something was going to happen. A week after the test—a day after we beat Missouri to go to 6-0—coach (Jim) McElwain called me into his office and said I failed a drug test for PEDs and would be suspended for a year.

I was crushed. I thought something had to be wrong.

We went and held a press conference. That's when it all started going bad.

I read in stories that I left the team, that it was my decision. It wasn't. Coach McElwain was telling the media that I was eligible to practice with the team, while telling me I didn't need to be around the team at this time.

I felt like I was being pushed away from Florida.

I was crushed. I thought something had to be wrong. ... I felt like I was being pushed away from Florida.

After I came back, my dad and I had a meeting with Coach McElwain in November to discuss the future. The meeting was scheduled for 5 p.m., and two hours later, Coach McElwain shows up. He was out recruiting (quarterback) Feleipe Franks.

I've read in various media stories that my dad and I had demanded guarantees of playing time or that we didn't want to play at Florida. Nothing could be further from the truth. It was the exact opposite. We went in there and specifically said we weren't looking for guarantees.

I said, the exact quote, "I just want to know what your plans are for the future. Are you going to bring in more guys? Am I a guy you don't see playing here in the future?"

He said, "You're welcome here in the future, you're a Gator, but I'm not telling you my plans. I'm not giving you any guarantees."

Two weeks later, I decided to have one more meeting, man-to-man, and ask McElwain what the future held. I kept asking him what I could do to make it work there. He finally ended up saying, "Maybe a fresh start isn't the worst thing." He said that, and I said, "So I guess that's the move."

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Joe Robbins / Getty Images

He told me I wasn't allowed to transfer to any SEC school but that he'd help any way he could. He was very helpful after that, once he knew I was leaving.

It was obvious he didn't want me there. I will never understand why.

Editor's note: Bleacher Report contacted McElwain to get his side of this story. On being late for the meeting with Grier because he was recruiting another quarterback, he said, "Was I late? I don't know. ... I'd have to check my calendar. I recruit a bunch of guys. We had 24 guys in that recruiting class." On pushing for Grier to transfer, he said, "I want nothing but the best for all of these guys. WVU is the best for him. That's what should be the focus. I will protect him until the end. I'm not going to go into how many times the stories change or the different wiggles it took. I understand the dynamics and pressure he's under. ... I'm glad he found a home. I feel horrible about what occurred. I’m excited that he has a place where he can go make a difference."

I didn't watch the Florida games in the second half of last season. It was too hard, too emotional. I invested so much into that place. I loved it there. My teammates, the fans, the university, the city. I wanted to win a national championship there.

But just like that, it was over.

Ed Zurga / Getty Images

I never thought McElwain appreciated anything I did. If it were a different situation and he did appreciate what I did, he would've done anything to get me ready to play for the next year. Trying to keep me in it, around the team, prepared to go if and when the opportunity happened again. Instead, it was just the opposite.

So when I was looking at other schools, I wanted to find a coach who wanted me. Urban Meyer probably recruited me the hardest, and Oregon did, too. West Virginia was close to home (Charlotte, North Carolina), so I visited and just loved the way they practiced and the way Dana taught the quarterbacks. It was exciting.

Right around that time, we heard that the NCAA may not allow me to play at the start of 2017. The thought is that by transferring from Florida, I wasn't serving the one-year suspension because I had to sit out a season by (NCAA) transfer rules. That was the final punch in the gut—but it was also the first big turn toward things getting better.

When I went into Dana's office, he said to me, "Don't worry about anything. We're going to stick with you no matter what, even if you can't play the first six games of 2017. We want you."

I committed to WVU that moment. It felt really good to find a coach who wanted me for me. It was exciting.

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@willgrier7 on Instagram

We're appealing to the NCAA to play Week 1 in 2017, and hopefully we will get a positive outcome.

I am a person who looks forward. Sometimes that's hard to do when you don't understand what happened in the past.

But I'm a big believer that everything happens for a reason, and I'm in a good place now.

It has taken a long time, but with the help of my family and my new coach and teammates here at West Virginia, I feel stronger than ever. I can't wait to play again.

I still lose sleep thinking about what went wrong, but it motivates me now.

I'm twice the player I was when I left Florida. I think everyone will see that come next year.