For three years now there has been a quiet star in the making, lingering in the background of the Clermont East Ridge football team, just doing his job.
Linebacker/running back Brian Mills (6-foot, 195 pounds) has done that job well. He has done what coach Bud O’Hara has asked of him. He’s waited his turn; sacrificed his own stardom for the sake of the team. He’s watched those before him achieve the accolades.
It’s his turn. And he doesn’t plan to waste any of the opportunities that now lie directly in front of him.
And unfortunately, perhaps the most talented player the Knights have had over the past three seasons get’s this response when someone mentions East Ridge’s rising senior … “Brian who?”
He plans to change that answer, and the first step toward the attention he is likely to start gaining came Monday in the form of his first NCAA Division I-A football scholarship offer from the Naval Academy.
“I kind of just sat there in shock. I didn’t really say much,” said Mills, a reaction that wouldn’t come as much of a surprise to those who know him.
So, Brian, then what did you say to the Navy coach after the initial shock?
“I didn’t say anything. I just sat there. He was talking to the coach most of the time,” said Mills, whose silence speaks volumes. He prefers actions rather than words, even though he’s as good a communicator.
He had 79 tackles last season on a defense that had several seniors, including two who are headed to Jacksonville University in Justin Horton and Andy Jones.
“They called me out of class and I didn’t really think I was going to get an offer but he just popped the question,” Mills said of Navy offensive line coach Sean Nua, who is the Midshipmen recruiter for the Orlando area. “He just asked a few things about me and then just said, ‘How would you like to have a full scholarship to the Naval Academy?’ … I just sat there.”
Flashing before him were probably the past three seasons of bumps and bruises and sweat that is somewhat the trademark of Bud O’Hara’s blue-collar football teams. Not much flash, just wins. The Knights have gone 24-9 over the past three seasons, including last year's playoff team that was 9-3.
“It feels good to know colleges are looking at me and I’m starting to get offers now,” Mills said. “I’m hoping more are on the way.”
And he’ll do whatever it takes to get on that football field at the next level.
“Most schools are telling me they kind of want me to play safety, so this year coach will have me drop back in coverage a lot,” said Mills, the No. 59-ranked player in the Sentinel’s 2013 Central Florida Super60. “It feels pretty good. I like it back there. I’ll pretty much do anything help out the team.”
Though there are plenty of more offers he hopes to see on the horizon, Mills said he’s happy with the one school that has offered him so far.
“I feel pretty good,” Mills said. “I can rely on my education a lot so I know I have a job when I get out. My grandfather was in the military … he was in the Marines.”
Navy coach Nua was busy scouting the west side of Orlando this week. He also offered a pair of Winter Garden West Orange defenders in DE Winston Chastang and DL-TE Jock Petree.
The Midshipmen currently have six Florida players on the roster, including two from Central Florida in Deltona’s Tanner Flemming, a sophomore center; and Deltona Trinity Christian sophomore nose guard A.J. Barnaby.
Also from Florida are JR-LB Vinny Mauro of Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, JR-NG Travis Bridges of Hollywood Madonna Chaminade, SO-DE Danny Ring of Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons , SO-QB John Hendrick of Tampa Sickles, JR-CB Aubrey Felder of Orange Park, SO-Slot Marcus Lewis of North Fort Myers, SO-LB Chris Johnson of Cape Coral, SO-LB Joe Worth of Lithia Newsome, JR-OG Tim Stone of Melbourne Central Catholic, SO-DE Ike McElrath of Milton Pace.
Mills vows to not get caught up in the number of East Ridge players who have come into their senior seasons as highly touted players only to end up some place other than a Division I-A school in the end.
“Most of those were because of grades,” Mills said. “So I should be OK with that.”