Westover’s Don Mills has 59 tackles and four tackles for loss this season for the Patriots, who are hosting a playoff game for the first time in history.
Getting to know Don Mills
Q: What’s your favorite food?
A: “Steak and Potatoes.”
Q: What’s your favorite movie?
A: “The Matrix.”
Q: Who is your favorite entertainer (movie star, comedian, singer etc)?
A: “Will Smith.”
Q: Who is your favorite NFL player?
A: “I don’t really have a favorite right now. I used to like Stephen Davis (former Redskins and Panthers running back).”
Q: If you were stranded on an island, who would you want to be with you?
A: (Singer/songwriter) “Mariah Carey… before she got married.”
Q: Who is the person you owe everything to?
A: “My parents; Don Mills Sr. and Evette Mills.”
If Don Mills Jr. wanted to be known, he got his wish.
It may have started in 2010 when Mills was a sophomore and first-year starter at Westover playing against Dougherty. Backpedaling from his middle linebacker position, Mills came up and layed out a receiver running a crossing route, a hit he remembers as one of his biggest.
“As soon as he caught the ball — Wham!,” Mills said, replicating the hit by throwing his shoulder into an invisible ball carrier. “The whole crowd, both sides, said, ‘Oooooh.’ ”
After that, the hits just kept coming. Mills had a breakout season in his junior campaign, recording 118 tackles en route to an All-Region selection in 1-AAA.
“I like to make sure people know that I’m on the field,” Mills said.
They know. It’s nearly impossible not to see Mills’ No. 40 reading and reacting, shedding blockers and flying to the ball. Mills, a 6-foot, 212-pound inside linebacker, epitomizes the position with his physicality and mental sharpness. The number of all-region linebackers with a 3.9 GPA taking AP Calculus has to be a short list.
“I don’t think I’ve coached a linebacker as smart as he is,” Westover head coach Octavia Jones said. “That position is almost like a quarterback on that side of the ball. It’s very important to have somebody that can think and set the other players’ (defensive alignment).”
A hamstring injury to start the season forced Mills to miss the first two games of the season and limited him in the third.
The Patriots (6-3, Region 1-AAAA No. 2 seed) started 1-2, giving up 35 points per game. In the next five games with Mills back healthy, Westover has allowed 19.3 points.
“Not having him the first couple of games really hurt us,” Jones said. “His leadership ability on the field was definitely missing. Just having his presence on the field, the guys seem to get up and play when he’s out there.”
Despite missing almost two full games and reinjuring the hamstring twice after returning, Mills has tallied 59 tackles with four tackles for loss.
He didn’t play, along with three other starters, in a week two, 34-12, loss to Jonesboro, which may have to return to Albany to face the Patriots in the first round of the GHSA Class AAAA playoffs.
Mills moved to Albany from North Carolina and grew up in a military family, his father a ground supply officer with the U.S. Marine Corps who also played for the U.S. Naval Academy. The impact of home life with a military man has rubbed off on Mills on Friday nights.
“I guess it started with discipline at the house,” Mills said. “Being able to control my emotions and being self-disciplined really helps me on the field.”
“His mom and dad have both instilled a lot of discipline and it definitely shows in his attitude and his mentality that he brings to the game,” Jones added.
Off the field, Mills has shown the ability to study in the classroom and the film room. Knowing his opponent each week through film study is one of his biggest attributes.
“I like to study the game plan,” Mills said. “Coach says it’s like the cheat sheet to the test. Some plays I know what the offense is going to do before they do it and I shout it out to my defense.”
College coaches have inquired about Mills playing outside linebacker at the next level, Jones said. No official offers have been extended, but some Division I schools have shown interest and Jones is sure somebody will be getting a smart and talented linebacker come February.
Wherever he ends up, the journey for Mills has been a good one. He saw two 3-7 seasons at Westover his first two years, then a 4-6 record last season.
Now, the Patriots are 6-3 and can win seven or more games for just the second time in the last 20 years with a victory in Saturday night’s Senior Night at Hugh Mills against Albany.
“It’s satisfying,” said Mills of the Pats’ second place finish in the region, the highest finish ever for the school. “My whole class, when we came as freshman, we knew Westover didn’t have the best records in the past, but all of us wanted to win. Our goal is still a state championship.”