"How can I put into words what I'm feeling today?" Mills said after practice. "I can't? It's almost too much. As a kid I always had those typical kid dreams of lining up for a team in the NFL. I thought it would happen. I hoped it would happen. But when it actually did happen, it was almost too much to take in. I guess my first thought was ‘Now I get to do this for a living?' It doesn't get any better than that."
The fact that Napoleonville's total population (658) is less than a section of the stands in Soldier Field doesn't phase this rookie.
"I played for Louisiana Tech in college," Mills said. "That tended to draw a large, enthusiastic crowd. So I'd say I'm accustomed to big games, lots of pressure, and to loud fans in the stands."
While playing in college, Mills studied the football career of Bulldog's great and Saints Hall of Famer Willie Roaf.
"They had a lot of information on him in the football department at school," Mills said. "I love learning about the players who came before me. Something about his character spoke to me so I read up on him. I used to study his game films. What a great player, what determination and skill he had. I'd consider my future NFL career a success if I can even come close to accomplishing what he did during his career."
"That helps me a lot, actually," Mills said. "I know what life is like in this league and what you need to do to succeed. I've watched the hard work Tramon has put into his career. Nothing is given to you in the NFL, that's for sure. But he's had such a wonderful time doing what he loves. I hope things will play out similarly for me."
Mills appeared in 37 games at Louisiana Tech, starting 34 of them. He played 29 times at tackle and five games at left guard. Mills' versatility, experience and intelligence are what made him sought after by the Bears in this years NFL draft. Chicago's staff believes he can be a starter down the line but for now, Mills is just happy to be on the filed.
"Heck, I'd be the water boy if that's what the coach asked me to do," he said. "My goal is to do what the coaches want, whatever that might be. Just tell me where to line up and I'm there. I'm a fast learner and I am able to play a variety of positions, so that should be a good contribution to this team."
The NFL Draft Report named Mills WAC Lineman of the Year his senior season. In the 12 games Mills played at right tackle, the Bulldogs line allowed the fewest sacks in the conference and the seventh fewest in the nation in 2012.
"That was very exciting at the time," Mills said. "But what means the most to me right now is to join the ranks of those illustrious men who wore the Bears uniform. Bronko Nagurski, Walter Payton, Mike Singletary, all the standouts in this organization.
"As soon as the Bears called and said they wanted me, I started looking up all the greats who once played here. It's no wonder I'm almost speechless right now. This is all that I'd ever imagined it would be and more than I'd ever hoped for. The only downside might be the weather. We're from the South. My entire family says they will come here to watch me play. I might be buying a lot of coats in the near future."
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.