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Servite receiver Tetairoa McMillan is already great, and getting better

Servite wide receiver Tetairoa McMillan makes a catch against Sherman Oaks Notre Dame in 2019.
Servite wide receiver Tetairoa McMillan gets big yardage after making a catch against Sherman Oaks Notre Dame in 2019.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

First in a series of stories profiling top high school players in the Southland by position.

To understand how influential and impactful senior receiver Tetairoa McMillan of Anaheim Servite has become, let’s have quarterback Noah Fifita set the stage from a game in 2019 against San Juan Capistrano JSerra.

It was second and goal from the two-yard line. McMillan lined up on the left side. Fifita was in shotgun formation. As the ball was snapped, McMillan was one on one against his defender. He was running a fade.

“When the ball came out of my hand, I thought I missed it,” Fifita said.

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The ball was thrown toward McMillan’s right shoulder. He turned and made a one-handed catch for a touchdown.

“Part of me was in shock,” Fifita said. “Part of me was, ‘I’m used to it.’”

Said McMillan: “I felt I wasn’t in reach for a two-handed catch. I practice it all the time. It wasn’t really that astonishing to me, but everyone else in the crowd was excited about it.”

In his rookie season of varsity football, the 6-foot-4, 190-pound McMillan was so versatile that those around him became convinced he could do almost anything.

“It’s definitely a ‘wow’ moment,” coach Troy Thomas said. “It’s become routine for him. It’s part of his repertoire.”

Those wow moments happened again and again this past spring. In a game against Santa Ana Mater Dei, McMillan was such a marked man that he drew six pass-interference penalties, many against USC recruit Domani Jackson in a one-on-one duel that was one for the ages. McMillan ended up with six catches for 103 yards and one touchdown.

“He’s almost unguardable,” said private quarterback coach Steve Clarkson.

McMillan’s athleticism is well known. He plays football, basketball and volleyball. Thomas thinks he could play almost any position in football. He had a school-record 36 kills in a volleyball match against Huntington Beach.

“We haven’t found anything he can’t do,” Thomas said. “He definitely can pass. We had some trick plays and ran some Wildcat. He’s made more to play safety, but we moved him to cornerback to match up with big receivers. He can do it all, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he could punt.”

The genuine excitement surrounding McMillan is because of his intelligence, physicality and work ethic. No one knows how good he might be as he continues to gain experience and strength.

“It’s a work in progress,” he said. “They always say practice makes perfect. I’m not at my peak. I have a lot more work to do. Every day you have to get better than the person you were yesterday.”

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McMillan switched from quarterback to receiver in eighth grade when he joined Fifita on a youth football team that won a national championship.

“In the long run, I made a good decision playing receiver,” he said.

Said Thomas: “He has tremendous hand-eye coordination. He catches anything that touches his hand. Being tall and long armed helps him. He definitely has deceptive speed. He’s a strong kid. He naturally has real good strength and enjoys the physicalness of football, which is rare. Some good receivers are really into catching. As a punt returner, he’d catch it with people around him and try to run over people.”

Fifita thinks there’s another strength for McMillan.

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“The most underrated thing about him is how smart he is,” he said. “He’s one of the smartest, and not just athletic but academics.”

McMillan, who has Hawaii family roots, said as much. While he loves football, his focus in the classroom won’t be forgotten.

“We all live beyond football,” he said. “It’s not going to be there my whole life. Maybe not half my life. I feel education will help in the long run.”

Meanwhile, he’ll keep practicing one-handed catches and perhaps deliver a couple more during games.

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“Me making the one-hand catch, getting the crowd rowdy is going to do nothing but bring me energy,” he said.

Added Fifita: “When it comes to sports, that kid is special.”

Tuesday: A look at the top quarterbacks, including Long Beach Poly senior Shea Kuykendall.

RECEIVERS TO WATCH

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Player, School, Ht., Wt., Yr. Comment

Eric Denham, Corona Centennial, 6-0, 195, Jr. Ready for breakthrough season.

Kevin Green, Bishop Alemany, 5-11, 165, Sr. USC commit is big-play weapon.

Chedon James, St. John Bosco, 5-9, 170, Sr. Averaged 19.2 yards per catch in spring.

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Jacoby Kelly, Loyola, 6-3, 195, Sr. Has size, strength, quickness.

Makai Lemon, Los Alamitos, 5-11, 175, Jr. Had nine TD catches this spring.

Mikey Matthews, Mission Viejo, 5-10, 180, Jr. Acrobatic catches are his forte.

Tetairoa McMillan, Servite, 6-4, 185, Sr. Makes one-handed catches look easy.

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Braden Pegan, San Juan Hills, 6-3, 195, Jr. UCLA commit uses athleticism, physicality.

Jason Thompson, Harvard-Westlake, 6-0, 175, Sr. 47-foot triple jumper with speed.

CJ Williams, Mater Dei, 6-2, 195, Sr. Hands are his strength.


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