It has been a wild first season for Georgia Tech freshman Dedrick Mills. He’s gone from being just another part of the team’s deep stable of B-backs to being the go-to guy when the Yellow Jackets line up to play Kentucky in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
And the ride was hardly bump-free.
Mills missed three games because of suspensions. He had to sit out the Mercer game, a week after being a hero in the win against Boston College in Ireland. He was forced to miss the Virginia Tech and Virginia games because of another violation.
Despite those off-field issues, head coach Paul Johnson never lost faith in Mills. He never held anything against the big B-back. Whenever Mills paid for his indiscretions, Johnson was there to welcome him back home.
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“The football part has never been a problem for Dedrick,” Johnson said. “There are distractions, but that’s a part of growing up. And when you’re on a football team, it’s magnified because you’re viewed through a more powerful telescope that everybody else. You’re held to a higher standard.”
The reasons for Mills’ suspensions have never been made public. That’s not the way Johnson does things. But the infractions weren’t enough to ever consider dismissing him from the team.
“Dedrick hasn’t done a whole lot of things that a normal student would be in trouble for,” Johnson said. “In fact, nothing probably. But when you’re playing, you’re held to a higher standard.”
Mills will have an additional burden to carry in Saturday’s bowl game. He’ll get the bulk of the snaps at B-back now that Marcus Marshall has opted to leave the team and transfer. Marshall was the team’s leading rusher with 624 yards. Mills, who also missed the Duke game with a concussion, has rushed for 602 yards and 11 touchdowns in eight games.
Mills got a quick start on his career when he graduated early from Ware County and enrolled at Georgia Tech in January. That enabled him to go through spring practice and get a headstart. He became the talk of preseason camp and made it clear that Marshall, the team’s leading rusher in 2015, wasn’t going to have a clear path to the job.
Mills won the position and became the first true freshman to start the opener in Johnson’s nine seasons at The Flats. He didn’t disappoint. Mills carried 18 times for 68 yards against Boston College on the rain-slick field in Ireland and scored the winning touchdown with 35 seconds remaining.
There were plenty of other highlights, too. The was the ACC Rookie of the Week for the Vanderbilt game (58 yards, three touchdowns) and Miami game (99 yards, two touchdowns). The last Georgia Tech rookie to win the award multiple times in a season was wide receiver Calvin Johnson in 2004.
Mills, who celebrated his 20th birthday with a Georgia Tech football cake on Dec. 27, will likely have a large cheering section at the bowl game. Ware County is a short drive to Jacksonville, much shorter than the drive to Atlanta. Chances are good that he’ll get plenty of chances to carry the ball.
TaxSlayer Bowl notes
The Yellow Jackets had their final practice on Thursday morning under blue skies at Fernandina High on Amelia Island. It was one last chance to get some work after a lackluster practice on Wednesday. …
The weather forecast for Saturday’s game calls for partly cloudy skies with a high of 68 degrees. The chance of rain is small.