Westover star LB Don Mills, second from right, smiles after signing with Bridgewater College on Thursday as he is joined by, from left, sister, Lillian; father, Don Mills Sr.; and mother, Evette.
ALBANY — Westover’s Don Mills Jr. is a wrecking crew on the football field, and maybe that’s one of the reasons he wants to do so much more to heal people in his real life.
It’s easy to appreciate the irony that is Mills — a tough, smash-mouth linebacker who wants to dedicate his life to medicine. And not just as a physician but as a family practitioner.
It’s that juxtaposition, that rare and unique blend of brute force and gentle kindness, that guided Mills to the biggest decision of his young life.
On Thursday afternoon, Mills, a three-time All-Region and three-time Herald All-Area linebacker, spurned offers from bigger schools and signed a letter-of-intent amid family and friends at Westover, accepting a scholarship to Bridgewater College in Virginia.
“It’s a small college with a great atmosphere and great academics to prepare me for medical school,’’ said Mills, a Herald Dynamite Dozen selection who has a 3.9 GPA and has wanted to become a physician since he was a sophomore. “I plan on majoring in pre-med and becoming a family practitioner.
“I also wanted to get out of Georgia. I want to experience things I haven’t experienced before, It’s a beautiful campus. I really enjoyed my visit there.’’
Mills, a four-time academic football All-American, had offers from 17 schools, including Division I South Carolina, but he felt Bridgewater had the right blend of football and academics.
“I’m not worried about not going Division I,’’ Mills said. “I’m glad God opened this opportunity for me. Even if I do go to the NFL, the NFL would not be a career for a lifetime. The average player is in the NFL for three or four years.’’
Bridgewater is a Division III powerhouse in football, and Mills could have an immediate impact.
“In Don Mills we feel we have the complete package. He brings difference-maker potential as an athlete as well as top of the line academics and great character,” Bridgewater College head football coach Michael Clark said. “We are excited to get a player in our program from such a great high school football area.”
Mills, who missed the first two games of the season with a hamstring injury, still made 114 tackles this season, including 12 for losses. He also forced two fumbles and was the emotional and physical leader for Westover and helped lead the Patriots to the playoffs and to one of the best seasons in the school’s history.
“I don’t even know where to start when talking about this young man,’’ Westover coach Octavia Jones said. “It’s definitely been a pleasure to coach him. He is an example and exemplary of what a student-athlete should be in the classroom and on the football field. I told every coach who recruited him that he is even a better person off the football field than on it. I can’t say enough about him. If you look up the definition of character in the dictionary, there’s a picture of him next to it.’’
Mills was an anchor at Westover, where he became a leader as a sophomore. He made 318 career tackles while helping turn the program around. Mills was a Georgia Junior Bowl selection before earning preseason All-State recognition prior to the start of his senior season.
“There were 17 schools that recruited him, and he turned down a full presidential scholarship to St. Augustine,’’ Jones said. “He had the luxury to find the perfect fit for himself. He’s going to Bridgewater to major in pre-med, and we will be calling him Dr. Mills very soon.’’