Millington Finally Healthy

Football teams are most successful when they have a strong class of seniors leading them. Kurt Kittner, Brandon Moore, Luke Butkus and Bobby Jackson and others did the trick in 2001 and helped the Illini to a Big Ten Championship. A similar group of seniors is showing the way this year, and an important one on the offensive line is Akim Millington.

Millington has endured a number of twists and turns in his college career. An All-American graduate of Wheaton North High School, Akim first attended football powerhouse Oklahoma and was in line to start at right tackle for the Sooners his redshirt freshman year.

Various circumstances forced him to reconsider his priorities, so he chose to leave the team and work construction for awhile.

When he realized how much he loved and missed football, Akim decided to transfer to the University of Illinois to continue his career. A strong spring proved him to be the Illini's top left tackle prospect, so everything looked extremely promising for him.

Millington played all of the 2006 season at left tackle for the Illini, but his play was a disappointment to himself and others. It was kept quiet at the time, but Akim explains he was not 100% healthy at any time during the season.

"I tore my rotator cuff the third practice of last fall's Camp Rantoul. So I played the whole year with it, but I am the kind of guy where the team's first. I transferred here, and everything happened the way it is for a reason. It is all part of the Lord's plan.

"I'm not going to sit out a year with surgery. I probably wouldn't get an extra year, so I talked to my Mom and we decided I should keep playing. I played through it and continued to have faith in the Lord and the coaching staff, so I survived at least most of the season."

Akim faced one great defensive end after another while playing the left side of the line with his left shoulder damaged and weak. "Oh man, there were a lot of guys," he says. "But you know, I'm not going to use it as an excuse."

In addition to his shoulder problems, Millington suffered a high ankle sprain in the Iowa game. Even though the injury was serious enough to warrant being carried off the field, Akim was back in the lineup the next week. High ankle sprains take several weeks to heal with rest and immobilization. They do not heal with constant athletic activity.

"That didn't help at all. It was a very tough year because the year before I did construction and not football and I was a little bit rusty. Coming off that, I had a really good spring and into fall camp, then have that happen the third day and then the whole Iowa situation with adversity. For the most part, I just have faith in the Lord and the coaching staff and my parents, my Mom, that they will do what's best for me, give me the right advice. And like I say, I just stuck it out and did what I had to do to help my team."

It didn't take long for opponents to recognize Akim had a problem and exploit him.

"I think toward the end of the season guys started figuring it out. They watched film and noticed something was wrong with my left shoulder. The strap and all doesn't really help hide it."

Shoulder surgeries take a long time to heal, especially for linemen who rely on strength to do their jobs properly.

"I had surgery December 15 (2006), right after the last day of finals. I couldn't really work out all spring. I started working out again towards the end of spring, around May. I have maybe 80% of my strength back. I'm still a little behind right now. I'm 4-6 months behind."

Another reason Akim had difficulty holding off onrushing defensive ends last season was uncertainties over where his quarterback was at all times.

"Yes, but you know, we had a freshman quarterback with Juice. The chemistry wasn't there as much as it is now, and that just comes with having experience with guys, it comes with time. And right now, I believe we have that chemistry where it needs to be overall.

"Football is a team sport. It can't just be one guy. We are five linemen out there. We have to perform as one to accomplish our shared goals. It was a tough year last year, but all I could do was hold my head up and look forward to the future and have a positive season."

Millington is playing for his third college offensive line coach, but he feels he is in good hands now.

"Coach Woolford is a really good guy who cares for us and is there for us. It's a good situation, and I love where I'm at right now. I believe I'm here for a reason. I'll just do what I can to look out for my team and be there for them this year."

Akim is playing right tackle this year and prefers it, but he will play wherever the coaches want.

"Whatever is better for the team. But I played the right side for the past six years, high school and at Oklahoma. I would prefer right over left because I've been more groomed for that position, but technique really depends more on what your opponent will do."

Akim has the advantage of having an offense at Illinois similar to what he learned at Oklahoma.

"It's the same offense (as Oklahoma). It's just no huddle here. That's the biggest difference between here and Oklahoma, same option, same shotgun, everything."

Akim Millington spends extra time after practice helping the youngsters on the offensive line learn techniques, and it appears they look up to him and respect him for his knowledge and ability. So it was no surprise he may wish to teach someday. The Sociology major with a minor in History is a thoughtful, intelligent young man who leads by example.

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