The Griers: Three internet superstars and, oh yeah, college football's leader in TD passes

Ben Queen/USA TODAY Sports

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Without YouTube, Justin Bieber might never have become a star. Without MySpace, Adele's voice might never have been noticed.

And without Vine, Will Grier probably would've remained more famous than his two younger brothers.

The quarterback of Davidson Day's football team, Will was the big man on campus. He had, after all that previous season, passed for a national record 837 yards and 10 touchdowns in a state playoff game.

But, in 2013, driving to their high school in the suburbs of Charlotte, North Carolina, with his brothers Nash and Hayes, Will's standing as the most well-known sibling of the family changed in the blink of a six-second Vine video.

Nash had downloaded the app shortly after its release, and began making videos, which usually featured his brothers and especially starred his then-4-year-old half-sister, Skylynn. To this day, nobody really knows how or why, but those Vines went viral, making Nash, then only 15, another overnight internet sensation.


A post shared by Nash Grier (@nashgrier) on

"Nash was in the front seat refreshing his page, and his follower count, it was unreal," Will said. "He'd hit refresh and it would be 22,000. And he'd hit refresh again and it would be 25,000.

"We couldn't conceptualize what was happening."

Will has moved on, as the big man of another campus.

Having put a messy departure from Florida behind him, he has propelled West Virginia into the thick of the Big 12 title race, as he leads the country with 26 touchdown passes.

Yet even though he's one of the top quarterbacks in college football, Will toils in relative anonymity compared with his three siblings.

Nash went on to become the most recognizable personality on Vine with social media followings rivaling Bieber. Hayes followed Nash's path, and as an internet star himself, became the youngest male contestant ever on "Dancing With The Stars." Not even a teenager yet, Skylynn has 1.2 million followers on Instagram.

In 2014, Time Magazine named Nash one of its "25 Most Influential Teens," alongside Sasha and Malia Obama and Kylie and Kendall Jenner. The following year, the magazine selected him one of the "30 most influential people on the internet," along with Barack Obama, Beyoncé, Jimmy Fallon, Taylor Swift, J.K. Rowling and Kim Kardashian.

"If we walked down the street," Will said, "I'd be the least famous, completely."

Yet while Nash and Hayes are living the celebrity life in Los Angeles, Will is living a rather quiet one, especially for a star college athlete.

He has a wife, Jeanne, and an 11-month-old daughter, Eloise. That has prompted his West Virginia teammates to affectionately dub him, "Old Man."

"I, 100 percent, feel like an old man, but I love it," said Will, laughing. "I watch the news, I'm up early. But when it comes to the team, I'm still one of the guys."

One of the guys. And one part of a unique family.

As one of the top quarterback recruits in the country, Will cast an enormous shadow over his younger brothers.

"I looked up to him big-time," said Hayes, who wore the jersey number 7 because Will did. "I wanted to be just like him growing up."

At one point, Nash was introduced before one of his lacrosse games as "Will Grier's little brother."

Even though Will would pass for a national-best 77 touchdowns his senior year, the script was beginning to flip.

Their father Chad, also Will's high school coach, first noticed the shift when he handed a sporting goods cashier his credit card, and caught him inspecting the last name. Chad assumed he was going to invoke Will. Instead, the cashier asked if he was related to Nash.

Within months, Nash's Vine following had ballooned past a million, which gained him an appearance on "Good Morning America," where he hung out with Sylvester Stallone on air.

That was only the beginning.

Parade Magazine named Will its player of the year, and invited him to a banquet in New York City that would be hosted by Pro Football Hall of Fame lineman Anthony Muñoz.

Afterward, Will, Nash and their father were walking through Times Square when they noticed a pack of girls dashing right for them. For a moment, Chad thought they were coming for an autograph from the son who had just been honored as the best high school football player in the country.

Instead, they made a beeline for the other.

"It was surreal, the things that were happening," Chad said. "Sometimes you go: Is this real? Is this really happening?"

How real it was had hit Nash a couple weeks earlier when he had gone to Iceland with his grandmother to promote a new app. He posted a Vine that he would be at a mall in Reykjavik later that afternoon. When he arrived, there were several thousand teenage fans already waiting.

"It ended up getting crazy," said Nash, who got separated from his grandma in the crowds. "We had to basically evacuate the place, we didn't really get to talk to anybody. We showed up and it was chaos."

As prolific as Will was as a quarterback, he said Hayes was the "most naturally gifted athlete" in the family. But Hayes gave up sports to join Nash on the "Magcon" meet-and-greet tours, where his own celebrity surged. He currently plays Noodle Nelson on the Hulu TV show "Freakish." Last year, he released a novel, "Hollywood Days With Hayes."

"Nash was doing all this stuff like traveling," Hayes said. "I was getting in his videos a little bit. ... And I loved doing that, because it was so cool to me. I was like, maybe I can take this social media thing to the next level."

While the careers of Nash and Hayes were exploding on the internet, so too was Will's on the gridiron.

As a redshirt freshman with the Gators, he went 5-0 as a starter, culminating with a dramatic comeback against Tennessee in which he threw two touchdowns in the game's final four minutes.

Two weeks later, he was summoned to coach Jim McElwain's office. Soon, Will's career at Florida would effectively be finished.

Will Muschamp had recruited Will to Florida, but Muschamp had been fired after Will's first year, and replaced with McElwain.

Unaware anything might be wrong, Will assumed McElwain just wanted to chat with his quarterback. Instead, Will was told he had tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance found in an over-the-counter supplement. The penalty of the offense carried a one-year suspension.

"I was blindsided," Will said. "I had no idea I was doing anything wrong."

When Will first showed up at Florida, he weighed 188 pounds. He wasn't crazy about the Gatorade-based protein drinks offered at the stadium, because of their sugar and carbohydrates. Knowing he'd need to gain weight to withstand the pounding of the SEC, he visited a nutrition store in Gainesville in search of protein powder. Will says he checked online to make sure what he bought wasn't banned by the NCAA, but he never double-checked with Florida's training staff.

"I'm by the book, I follow the rules, I thought I was following the rules," he said. "But I was young, I was careless with it."

McElwain told reporters that Will would be allowed to continue practicing with the team, then, according to Will, told him to take some time at home in North Carolina.

Upon returning to Gainesville, Will didn't feel welcomed.

"[McElwain] didn't really invite me back to the stadium, and it felt weird the times I would go up there," Will said. "There was this idea that I knew what I was doing, which was not the case. The players would come over to my house, but it was weird to go to the stadium with the staff. The dynamic was just off."

Will even offered to play scout-team quarterback the week of the SEC championship game to help prepare Florida's defense for Alabama. He was turned down for that, too.

"He loved being a Gator. He loved the place, the school, the people, he was proud to be a Gator. He was all in," Chad said. "I didn't realize he had been ostracized. I underestimated the impact of what he was going through, and the fact he wasn't doing good. He was in a dark place."

After revealing to his dad that he'd been cut off, Will asked if he'd come with him to meet with McElwain "to figure this out." When McElwain showed up more than two hours late to their appointment, Chad knew it was a bad sign.

McElwain said Will was welcome to stay, but also suggested a fresh start elsewhere might not be a bad idea. After the meeting, Chad told his son, "I don't think he wants you.'"

McElwain later insinuated that the Griers had asked for a "guarantee" that Will would get the job back once he was eligible to return.

They vehemently contest that.

"I was expecting a 10-minute meeting: 'Hey, we care about your son, he's important to the program,'" Chad said. "Just wanted to know he was wanted there, because there was no plan. How are you going to help and develop him, even though he's going to have to sit out?

"The last thing we asked for was a guarantee."

As rocky as the first meeting with McElwain went, Will wasn't quite ready to let go.

"I wanted to stay. ... So I went back and met with him, just one-on-one," Will said. "But it felt like this staff wanted to move on, which is fine, there's no hard feelings toward that. They have their own recruits, their own guys."

Toward the end, when Will agreed to leave, McElwain printed out prepared releases for schools he could transfer to, which precluded the SEC, rival Florida State and future opponent Michigan. And, as Will put it, "left it at that."

Nash has been to the Grammys, the White House Correspondents' Dinner and even Dolce & Gabbana fashion week in Milan; Will plays board games, like Bananagrams, for fun.

meet my niece, Eloise 😌

A post shared by Hayes (@hayesgrier) on

Hayes has palled around with Nick Carter and Chaka Khan at "Dancing With The Stars"; Will spends evenings studying, or watching Netflix with Jeanne.

Nash and Hayes have lived in Hollywood; Will lives with his family in a townhome away from West Virginia's campus.

"It's a crazy concept. We live such different lifestyles," Hayes said. "But it's awesome. Everyone is so proud of him."

With a family at home, Will has given up drinking and partying. But he has a pingpong table to entice his teammates to still come over and hang out.

"They know they're not going to see me out in these clubs and bars or anything," he said. "Obviously, I want to spend every minute with my daughter that I can. But they know if they ever need anything, I'm there for them."

Will and Jeanne have been there for each other, as well. The two were getting serious at Florida just as his football career there came crashing down. A couple months later, Jeanne found out she was pregnant.

"That shook both of our worlds," Will said. "We had to make a decision. But it was a no-brainer for both of us. We felt like we had a responsibility, and this was a sign that we needed to commit to this and make this work. It was important for us to do this thing as a family and she's been awesome, very supportive. It's been a good deal."

After a second visit to Morgantown, the two committed to West Virginia together. Over the summer, he proposed, and Jeanne gave birth to Eloise in the fall.

"I always laugh because I get my parenting advice from Will," said West Virginia offensive coordinator Jake Spavital, who became a dad over the summer. "He's a great father and great husband."

Will has been a great quarterback, too.

He's averaging more than 350 passing yards per game while completing two-thirds of his passes.

He also has 21 more touchdown passes than Florida's quarterback contingent combined.

"We believed in him and his abilities," said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, whose team is 5-2 and ranked 22nd in the polls. "It's worked out pretty damn good."

It also has worked out for the entire Grier clan, as West Virginia game weekends have become a reunion of sorts for the family, including Will's dad; his stepmom, Nila; his mom, Elizabeth Grier-Floyd; his stepfather, Johnnie Floyd; Skylynn; Jeanne; Eloise; and even his two brothers. Nash flew in for the home opener, Nash and Hayes attended the Texas Tech game and both are planning to come back for Oklahoma State on Saturday.

"West Virginia games are like a holiday for us," Hayes said. "We literally have the whole family there -- my dad's side, my mom's side, everyone."

Sitting together in the stands, the family comprises an Instagram follower total that reaches 18 million.

But in another way, it's also like high school. At least for a few hours, Will again is the family's biggest star.

"Going to West Virginia and watching him play and compete," Nash said, "it's one of my top three favorite things. It's insane.

"And I'm a superfan."