Raekwon McMillan Thriving As Freshman

Sometimes things don't work out the way they're supposed to in recruiting, but sometimes they do. Such is the case with Raekwon McMillan, a top-50 talent in the class of 2014 who has stepped in and made a major impact already for the Ohio State football team and Urban Meyer.

Start at Raekwon McMillan’s name on the official Ohio State stat sheet and move right and there’s plenty of numbers.

There’s the nine solo tackles and six assists, adding up to 15 tackles despite his limited duty in the first three games. Then there’s 3.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, and an interception – returned for a TD Saturday at Maryland. The line doesn’t even include a fumble he picked up when Darron Lee had an interception Saturday ripped from his arms, a key recovery that led to OSU’s game-killing TD late in the first half.

One could say it’s a coincidence, that big plays have merely just falling into McMillan’s lap early in his time at Ohio State.

But linebackers coach and defensive coordinator Luke Fickell doesn’t think that way.

“It’s not by accident that somehow No. 5 comes up with the ball,” Fickell said. “He’s always around the football.”

That skill made him one of the most sought-after recruits in the country last year, as McMillan was rated by Scout.com as the No. 50 overall player in the class of 2014 as well as the fifth-rated middle linebacker. But right now, you could argue none have a brighter future than McMillan, who has received the majority of the playing time the last two weeks over senior mentor Curtis Grant as the Buckeyes have faced more pass-heavy offenses vs. Cincinnati and Maryland.

But McMillan came in as just the latest in a run of highly rated linebackers at Ohio State, but so far he’s been able to avoid the fates of players like five-star prospects Grant and Sabino – two players who were upperclassmen before making an impact – or even guys like Dorian Bell or Scott McVey, just two in a long line of recent line of ballyhooed linebacker prospects to either transfer or face injury troubles.

When asked why he’s been able to thrive so early in his Buckeye career, McMillan – who chose the Buckeyes last December and enrolled in time for January classes – said spring ball was a huge help.

“I came in early and I think that's what really changed the game for me,” he said. “Coming in early, learning the whole process, going through spring ball and the summer and going through fall camp, knowing the concepts of the defense, it really helped out a lot.”

Of course, instincts have to help as well, as Fickell alluded to. Being around the ball helped McMillan pick up Lee’s fumble on his interception return, and it served him well on his pick-six against the Terrapins as he was in the right place to haul in a tipped pass in the fourth quarter.

Afterward, he was more than excited to put the first six points of his college career on the board.

“It's one of the best feelings in the world,” he said. “It's a blessing. My teammates helped me out by tipping the ball and I just took advantage."

Still, even after the performance that included four tackles to go with his touchdown and his near TD, McMillan was even-keeled about his showing.

"I had a couple of mental errors throughout the game,” the Georgia native said. “I wouldn't say it was a breakout game. I took advantage of the moments but I still have to execute better on some stuff that I did and help the guys around me better.”

With his extended playing time of late, McMillan still doesn’t feel as though he’s cemented himself in the middle linebacker role, and Fickell said he will continue to rotation the star freshman as well as Grant as needed. Grant, a team co-captain who has 28 tackles and three TFL, has started all five games and is still a key part of the rotation, especially against the more physical teams the Buckeyes will play this season.

“(McMillan is) gonna be a really, really good player, man, and the great thing is those guys care about one another and they’re not selfish,” Fickell said. “They’re not gonna be pouting because somebody else is getting the reps.”

Added McMillan, “Me and Curtis just go out there every day in practice and go hard, compete with each other and make each other better. We don't know how the situation is going to go on game day, that's the coaches call. We just worry about what we can worry about.”

So for now, McMillan is happy to simply be a part of an Ohio State team that has looked like a contender the past three weeks.

"I feel like I’m blessed,” he said. “The average 18-year-old doesn't come in with the opportunity that I came in with."

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