Bored and anxious for another chance in the big time, Dedrick Mills was oh-so-ready to get out of Dodge.
OK, it was actually Garden City, Kansas. But close enough.
“I was so relieved to get out of there. I was so happy when I did,” says Mills, listed co-No. 1 with Maurice Washington at running back on Nebraska’s first depth chart of the 2019 season. “I’m so excited to be here right now. I wake up every day with a smile on my face. Everybody sees me every day smiling and ready to go.”
A chiseled 5-foot-11 and 220 pounds, Mills has been a force at times this month in preseason camp. He enjoys practice. I mean, he genuinely enjoys it. And let’s be clear on something else: He practiced his you-know-what off for Garden City Community College, according to his coaches there. Although he was excited to leave the town of 26,500 in southwest Kansas — 52 miles from Dodge City — he left his mark, rushing for 1,358 yards and 19 touchdowns last season in 10 games.
In a late October game against Coffeyville (Kansas) Community College, he carried 44 times for 262 yards (6.0 per carry) and four touchdowns.
At Ware County (Georgia) High School, fans called him “the Beast,” and I’ll just let your imagination wander, with help from the Beast himself.
“I’m a straightforward runner,” Mills says. “If you’re in my way, you better move. If you don’t move, then you get hit.”
He looks like he was put on earth to be a running back. Mind you, this isn’t a scat-back we’re talking about. My guess is Nebraska fans will be buzzing about Mills by midway through the first quarter Saturday when the Huskers open the season against South Alabama.
Mills says he expects to rush for as many as 1,500 yards this season. Nebraska head coach Scott Frost’s offense likely will spread the ball around too much for Mills to rush for 1,500. But I can envision him eclipsing Devine Ozigbo’s 2018 total of 1,082 rushing yards.
Watch Mills’ video highlights. His physical, downhill style is such that it can inspire an entire roster.
Nebraska always should have at least one back like Mills. I'm betting Ryan Held will make it happen.
Frost said almost in passing this week that Mills would be on the field Saturday for the first offensive play from scrimmage.
Yeah, the big back has made a quick impression.
"He's a one-cut back, straight in your face,” says Husker inside linebacker Mohamed Barry.
Says Frost: “Probably has better breakaway speed than I expected and he’s hard to bring down.”
Oh, but Mills was mentally and emotionally down following his 2016 season at Georgia Tech. He had been a force, rushing for 771 yards and 12 touchdowns in nine games. After the season, former Yellow Jackets head coach Paul Johnson had no choice but to boot Mills off the team because of repeated violations of the athletic department’s substance-abuse policy, all for marijuana use.
Mills headed to Garden City, fully aware he “pissed away” (his words) a wonderful situation at Georgia Tech because he chose to make bad decisions. Even now, he doesn't hide from it.
After he injured a shoulder in Garden City in 2017 — he was limited to seven carries on the season — he says he was very close to giving up the sport he loves so dearly. Sometimes we all contemplate moves that really don't make sense, right?
“I called my mom and told her I didn’t want to be in college no more, that I was done,” Mills says. “She basically was cussing me out. She was like, ‘No, you’re staying.’ Then I called my uncle. I told him, ‘I don’t think I can do this.’”
The uncle didn’t want to hear it.
“You’re staying,” he told Mills in a firm tone. “You don’t have a choice, feel me? You have to do this. You have to get this done.”
Mills said he had stopped believing in himself. But his family renewed his belief. They essentially fed "the Beast."
Thank heavens for family, right?
And, yes, thank heavens for second chances. Mills owns up to his transgressions at Georgia Tech. He said he's changed his ways. He became more appreciative of all he had in life. Come to think of it, perhaps all that quiet he experienced in southwestern Kansas gave him time to ponder his future … and think about what he almost lost.
Make no mistake, he had a lot of time to think in Garden City. Practice, class, living quarters. That was pretty much it, he says.
Granted, there were a few trips to "The Big Pool" with teammates. The city’s municipal pool is larger than a football field with a surface area of 72,600 square feet. It holds more than 2 million gallons of water.
“We’d do little fun things, but there’s really not too much to do out there,” Mills says.
He should find plenty to do in Lincoln. Especially on autumn Saturdays.
His big chance in the big time has arrived. Again.
I’m guessing Mills will make another mammoth splash.
That's right, feed that beast.