Losing McMillian’s leadership is what will be most difficult for Mainland during the 2019 season.
D’Andre McMillian was weeks away from graduating high school and only a few months away from attending his first football practice at Murray State University.
But his old team needed him.
There had been some shuffling among Mainland football’s coaching staff. Some coaches were forced to take on new position groups, and they were spread out.
Before the start of spring practice on April 22, Buccaneers offensive coordinator Arin Hankerd approached McMillian. He wanted him to help coach during the spring.
“He was the first coach ready with a whistle in his mouth,” Hankerd recalled. “It was awesome.”
Losing McMillian’s leadership is what will be most difficult for Mainland during the 2019 season. Not that he was the first 1,000 yard rusher the Buccaneers have had since 2011. Not that he accounted for 27 total touchdowns, 23 of which were rushing touchdowns (a school record for a running back). Not that he was one of the fastest or most agile players on the team. It’s losing his intangible qualities — his football IQ and his character — the Buccaneers will struggle to replace.
“He was the smartest kid weever had,” Hankerd said. “He’s a brilliant football mind.”
Taron Keith doesn’t know how last year would have turned out if not for having McMillian with him in the backfield. It was Keith’s first time starting at quarterback, and he was in a new system. But McMillian knew the offense inside and out, backward and forward. He called audibles for the offensive line and checked pass protection nearly every down.
“(D’Andre McMillian) set the bar around here. And now, we’ve got to go raise it.”
“It was like having another quarterback back there with me,” said Keith, now a rising senior. “It took a lot of burden off my shoulders. I could rely on him at any time.”
The Buccaneers will no longer have their workhorse at running back. To combat this, they’ll use a by-committee approach. Coaches have already tabbed rising senior Nathan “Wam” Braswell as the Buccaneers’ next starter. Keith will see time as a backup running back in addition to his duties at quarterback (where he’ll still be relied upon to run the ball). The Buccaneers are looking for a third back to step up during summer practice.
Braswell, a transfer from Father Lopez Catholic High School, doesn’t have the top-end speed that McMillian had. But he’s got great balance. He bounces off tackles and stays on his feet.
“He’s very efficient when he runs,” Hankerd said. “He just hits the hole and gets forward progress.”
Braswell said that he can do more than run, though. He’s a more-than-willing pass catcher.
“I can even throw if you need me to,” he joked. “I can give you anything you need.”
Keith, in addition to his physical talent, may be able to bring some of the leadership qualities that McMillian demonstrated last season.
“He’s the perfect storm of A-plus athlete, A-plus character, A-plus football guy,” Hankerd said. “He’s the hardest working guy every day, and he just has the best character of any one I’ve ever met. He’s one of the best kids I’ve ever coached.”
But there’s no question: Regardless of who is in the backfield for the Buccaneers, McMillian will be sorely missed.
“He set the bar around here,” Braswell said. “And now, we’ve got to go raise it.”