A 4.2 GPA, 28 on the ACT, plenty of scholarships to his name and a plan to study aerospace engineering seems like a healthy resume for any high school senior. But when coupled with a 6-foot-3, 239-pound frame, a four-star rating and a top 10 rankings among the nation’s top high school middle linebackers -- it shouldn’t come as a surprise to hear those close to Joshua McMillon describe him as “special.”
While several of his current skills, like intellect, perspective and presence, were apparent from the first few years of his life, football prowess was now always one of them. In fact, he didn’t play an organized season of football until he was a teenager.
”He never even picked up a ball, and one day he decided…he was about 13. Never picked up a ball. He said, 'I’m gonna play ball,'” said Jacquiline McMillon, his mother (far left in the photo, above). “The very first game, we were astonished, we couldn’t believe it. He just grasped it. When he puts his mind to it, he can do it. He showed us all along. Everything he has had a challenge with in life, he accomplished it.”
Sylvester McMillon, the Memphis (Tenn.) Whitehaven’s standout’s father (in between Jacquiline and Josh), was even more taken back because of the first time Josh went to a football practice.
“It was a surprise to me. He had a little friend that played pee wee football, and he went out one day, came home and said, ‘Dad, that’s not for me.’ I said, ‘okay, he’s going to be a little nerd,’” he said, laughing. “He’s always been very intelligent in school. Then, one day in eighth grade, he said he was going out for football. I said, ‘okay.’”
The father and son had a conversation about position, and linebacker and defensive end were brought up. McMillon stars at each as a senior, and projects as a linebacker at the next level.
“When we went to the first game, saw him play that first time, I said…’We’ve got something to work with!’” he said.
Football became important at that point, but it was always a supplement to the greater goal, to get an education. Jacquiline, a cosmetology teacher and Sylvester, a head chef at a retirement home, preached school from the beginning.
And from the beginning, McMillon’s off-the-field ability was apparent.
“His IQ, his range, has been a phenomenon,” Jacqueline said. “It’s just no surprise, the kid was operating a computer at the age of three. I bought him this little high-tech computer, I don’t know what it was, and he figured it out in minutes. At the age of three. “
Scholarship later began coming in, both academically and athletically, he kept growing, and realized that this summer was when a college decision had to be made in order to truly focus on his final high school campaign. Alabama, Auburn, Michigan and Ole Miss were the main universities jockeying for position.
Mom and Dad wanted the decision to be completely up to him as long as one criteria was satisfied, per Mrs. McMillon.
“We really want to leave it up to him,” she said. “My main concern is that he fulfill the academic part. I want him to get a college degree, go on and get his master’s in engineering, and play that out. I know he’ll have something to fall back on to help someone else. “
Shortly after, Mr. McMillon added, “If he’s sure, we’re sure. “
VIDEO: Watch McMillon commit to ‘Bama
Then came visits, plenty of them, and multiple to Tuscaloosa, Ala. The final trip was in July, shortly after participating in The Opening. It was this multi-day stay that sealed the deal for the four-star middle linebacker.
“We just went with the flow, my heart goes out to some things that Nick Saban said. We did some background of him as a coach and the University of Alabama as a school, and it was so family oriented and spiritual to us,” she said. “Nick said some very encouraging things to us as a father and as a mother, when it comes to the team, comes to his coaching, and it stuck with us. Especially when he talked about his father, that stuck with me the most, as he followed in his father’s footsteps.
“It really touched my heart, and I knew then, that it wasn’t that he just wanted to win games. But he was all about the inner-being of the students, the football players. It stuck with me, I could feel him when we spoke with him. “
Even still, there was some resistance. Playing for the Crimson Tide wasn’t the most popular destination among friends of the McMillon’s, and the head chef in particular.
“Some of my associates and co-workers said they wouldn’t let their sons go to Alabama, because Alabama gets the crème of the crop when it comes to football players,” he said. “But he (Josh) came to me and said, ‘I really want to go to Alabama, because I want to play with the best and learn from the best.’
“When he told me that, it was all over.”
After the visits, academic presentations, and phone calls with varios head coaches, McMillon gave Saban the news that he wanted to play ball and study aerospace engineering at Alabama.
“It really hasn’t soaked in, Joshua has been a special child from birth, he was so intelligent from an early age,” Jacquiline McMillon reiterated. “It’s not a shock, but he’s had so many big dreams and I’ve always told him, keep dreaming.”
Naturally, in speaking with BamaMag about his pledge, McMillon cited his parents and their comfort with the program, beginning with the academics, as one of the main reasons he is on the commitment list. The senior says when it comes to his on-field projections, Saban has already thrown out the word “captain” in the discussion.
Should it be a surprise?
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