Southern Standout Loves New Buckeye Home
By Rob Ogden
Raekwon McMillan's hometown of Hinesville, Ga. lies in the heart of SEC country.
A short drive to the west sits reigning SEC-champion Auburn, to the north are the Georgia Bulldogs and to the south the Florida Gators. Steve Spurrier's South Carolina Gamecocks are a stone's throw to the east.
Perennial power Alabama lies only a couple hours further west from Auburn, and ACC heavyweights Clemson and national champion Florida State are close by, as well.
With seven of the nation's college football giants within easy driving distance, the country's No.1-rated middle linebacker decided to travel 713 miles north to Columbus, Ohio, where on signing day the temperature dipped well below freezing and the snow pilled up outside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
Photo by Jim Davidson
"It's been an adjustment," McMillan said. "But it's really not that bad. I'd rather be cold than hot."
McMillan, an early enrollee, said his short time in Columbus has been a " total culture shock", but that might have had more to do with the dozens of reporters that stood around him than the icy weather outside.
McMillan said he has only started to get used to the attention he has garnered.
Hinesville isn't a particularly large town. The community's entire population could be seated inside Ohio Stadium – more than three times over.
"Coming from a small town like Hinesville, Georgia, you don't expect a lot of people to come around there and come see you play football," said McMillan, who chose Ohio State over Alabama, Auburn, Clemson and Georgia. "Bringing in a lot of tickets, a lot of sales to the game, it was very fun, but high school's over now, it's time to get on to 107,000 people."
McMillan was near the top of the list for every school in America, but Ohio State, in desperate need of linebackers, made him a priority.
Mark Pantoni, Ohio State's director of player personnel, said he probably messaged McMillan every single day for two years.
"That was the guy I targeted, that I told myself I wanted to get and I had to get," Pantoni said.
The Buckeyes were aided by the fact that two of McMillan's high school coaches were from Ohio. Once they got him on campus, it was just a matter of closing the deal.
"Every time I visited Ohio State I felt like it was the place for me," McMillan said. "Everything about it is great."
Leaving the heart of SEC country for the Big Ten wouldn't seem to be easy, especially if you have your pick of schools.
That wasn't going to stop McMillan.
"It's not really hard," he said with a laugh. "If you really want to be somewhere, you're gonna go regardless of what the temperature is or how cold it is, or how much it snows outside. Once you fall in love with a place, you just want to be there all the time."
It seems Ohio State's coaching staff has fallen in love with McMillan just as he has with the school.
Coach Urban Meyer said Wednesday that McMillan already looks like a junior.
They'll be counting on him to play like a junior this fall, when he could be thrust into meaningful action fairly early.
"I'm putting pressure on them, Coach Fickell and myself to get ready for next year," Meyer said about McMillan and the other three linebackers brought in. "They have to play for us, in addition to the players we have on our roster already."
McMillan said he knows he'll have the chance to earn playing time – possibly even a starting spot – but he's not letting the high-profile recruitment go to his head.
"Every day I come in with the mindset that the five-star stuff and high school really don't matter no more," he said. "All that can be thrown in the trash can right now because I'm just a freshman in college who got here in January. I have to come in and work hard like everybody else so I can make a name for myself on the field."
McMillan hopes to make a name for himself, but he has already put Hinesville on the map.
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