The four-star prospect and No. 5 rated middle linebacker in the 2013 recruiting class according to Scout.com, McMillan came to Columbus as an early enrollee with plenty of hype. He won the high school Butkus Award as the top linebacker in the country and recorded 456 career tackles with 10 forced fumbles at Hinesville (Ga.) Liberty County.
Upon his arrival at Ohio State, McMillan continued to impress. He drew praise from coaches during the spring and earned the right to open preseason practice by suiting up with the upperclassmen for an afternoon workout instead of in the morning with the rest of the newcomers.
“They act like pros, act like grown men, so we let them practice with the grown men today,” Meyer said of McMillan and fellow freshman Johnnie Dixon.
“It was a great feeling,” McMillan said of the honor. “I know how highly Coach Meyer thinks of me, and I gladly appreciate it. I have to keep working hard to stay on his good side.”
The accolades kept coming Sunday when Meyer announced on Twitter that McMillan was one of the first true freshmen to lose the black stripe on his helmet, signifying his full acceptance into the team.
The 6-2, 240-pound freshman said he is enjoying the opportunity to prove himself with the Buckeyes.
“I’m having fun with it,” McMillan said. “It’s truly a blessing to have all the accolades I came in with, but those are high school accolades. I have a new start here at Ohio State. Everything I had in high school is gone now. I’m not the guy I was my senior year in high school. Now I’m a freshman in college and I have to build back up.”
He is on his way to doing just that. In fact, McMillan had his black stripe removed from his helmet Aug. 10, joining Curtis Samuel as the first two freshmen to become official members of the Ohio State football team.
McMillan definitely has the body of a linebacker, but he said he is undergoing a physical transformation since his arrival at OSU. Like many other Buckeyes, working with strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti is already paying off.
“One of my biggest challenges when I first got here was losing a bunch of body fat so I could get down and be able to play at a pace of the game,” McMillan said. “It’s a fast game. Offenses are fast, so if you’re not able to lose body weight and be able to run with those guys, you can’t get on the field.”
Speed is a point of emphasis for Meyer’s Buckeyes. The “4-to-6, A-to-B” mantra has not been lost on McMillan, which is one of the main reasons he has found early success. Defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Luke Fickell said speed is the biggest way a freshman like McMillan can make an impact.
“If they’ll show up and and show they can go from point A to point B as fast as they possibly can and they don’t let their minds slow themselves down, they’ve got something to work with,” Fickell said.
McMillan does not seem to be a candidate to take a redshirt this season. In practices open to the media, the Georgia native has been the second-string middle linebacker behind senior Curtis Grant. McMillan is rooming with Grant – a former highly-touted prospect himself – at the team hotel during preseason preparations, and the youngster said he has learned a lot from Grant.
“He’s taught me a lot, on and off the field,” said McMillan, who Grant has referred to as his little brother. “From the speed of the game to how to manage my time off the field, he’s been a big help. Most of my free time that I have, when I’m not playing football, I spend it with Curtis. We’re building a great relationship.”
McMillan’s story is just beginning at Ohio State, but he is off to a good start. As for how he wants this first chapter to end, McMillan is keeping his goals simple.
“Just be beneficial to my team in any way possible and know that I didn’t do anything that could harm the team,” he said.