Over the next few weeks, we’re counting down the 10 Huskers with the highest intrigue factor heading into the 2019 season. Here’s who we’ve covered so far:
- No. 10: Mike Williams, senior wide receiver
- No. 9: Jack Stoll, junior tight end
- No. 8: Cam Taylor, sophomore defensive back
- No. 7: JoJo Domann, junior linebacker
The case can be made for this guy being a little higher. In terms of fans’ excitement level to find out just what Dedrick Mills is, he might be unrivaled. In terms of unknowns surrounding just what his role will be in his first year out of JUCO, he might be the biggest question mark. In terms of talent and physical tools, he might just be the running back best positioned to carry the load next season.
Out of Garden City Community College, Dedrick Mills is an exciting prospect just on the surface. The comparison between him and the other big name competing for backfield snaps is an interesting one.
Mills starred at Georgia Tech as a freshman in 2016 — his first collegiate game against Boston College on Sept. 3, 2016, just a year removed from playing linebacker at the high school level, Mills had 68 yards and a game-winning fourth-quarter touchdown run — but was kicked off the team after several rules violations. He went to Garden City and broke his collarbone two games into that first season. He told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution he felt like his football career was over at that point.
Fast forward two years and Mills has turned his entire career around. He got healthy for his final year at Garden City, started and ran for 1,358 yards and 19 scores on 236 carries. He spent a summer hitting the books to raise his GPA, made grades and got admitted to UNL in May. By all accounts, Mills has put himself — an important distinction I want to make; he did this — back on the right path and back in a position to be successful.
The other guy in the Husker backfield, Maurice Washington, is dealing with criminal charges in California stemming from an incident before the got to UNL, hasn’t been a full participant in team activities since and was slapped with a cite and release from campus police for possession of drug paraphernalia just a few months ago.
Both are incredibly talented runners. Mills seems to have the maturity edge; a guy who has messed up, hit the bottom and learned from those mess-ups. Perhaps that gives him the positional edge. It’s been said before, but Washington has maybe one of the highest football ceilings on the team. And Mills is right there with him.
As a freshman playing in the ACC, Mills carried it 152 times for 771 yards and 12 touchdowns (the sixth-most rushing scores by a player in the league that season). He earned a starting job, the MVP trophy in the TaxSlayer Bowl and Freshman All-American honors. Mills finished fourth in voting for ACC Offensive Newcomer of the Year.
He showed an ability to fight for that one yard needed on third-and-short and the ability to bust a big one, which seems like it shouldn’t be that hard, but remember the big knock on Ozigbo — and the reason many didn’t expect him to see the field last season before the campaign began — was that he could do one, not both.
"How will he do in the Big Ten? He will be an impact player that fits in just fine,” former Broncbuster coach Jeff Sims told Hail Varsity’s Greg Smith last year. “We’ve had four All-American tailbacks and he’s as good as any running back I’ve ever seen. He’s an elite football player.”
Is that the best block? No, not really, but Mills has the awareness and willingness to at least get in the defender’s way and spring a touchdown. Sims, once more: “We could put a highlight film of him up where he doesn’t carry the ball. The block he made this weekend so our other back could run 75 yards, the pancake he had on the punt block team where he destroyed the guy on the shield. He doesn’t care what you have him play, he goes as hard as he possibly can. God made him as a football player. He is tremendous.”
Mills needed one on third down. He got the one, then kept his legs going and pushed a literal pile of Vanderbilt defenders into the end zone for six more. Listed at 5-foot-11, 215 pounds, Mills has a ready-made body for the Big Ten. If you told me the kid was ready to step in and carry it 20 times a game and there wouldn’t be any major concerns about his ability to hold up, I wouldn’t argue.
Those are two Georgia linebackers the freshman Mills just stood up and knocked back at the goalline.
This one is probably the most impressive one I watched from the Georgia Tech days.
(It’s important that everyone knows these were labeled “tha block,” “tha power,” “tha power x2” and “tha balance” on my desktop. It’s not relevant information, it’s just important to me that you know.)
This is a ground game that was great last season — seventh nationally in rushing S&P+ — and now has to figure out how to reload. The big one, Devine Ozigbo, is gone, and that's a pretty large chunk of production. But the bigger issue might not be the production by itself, rather the efficiency with with Ozigbo ran last season. He got to 1,000 yards, but he did it at a 6.98 yards-per-carry clip with a success rate of 56.8 percent.
It can't all be on quarterback Adrian Martinez's shoulders to pick up the slack. Nebraska needs improvement in short-yardage situations (it finished 79th in power success rate, which is the percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down) and a guy like Mills will have just as much of a responsibility there as the offensive line.
I imagine his top-end speed and breakaway ability will be stressed a little when Mills gets a full offseason with strength coach Zach Duval. He’s not a finished product by any means, but he’s still maybe the most well-rounded back Nebraska has. We just don’t know what’s going on with Washington, and with Nebraska expecting to be much improved this season, it needs a sure thing in the backfield. Or, at the very least, a surer thing.
And that’s Mills’ floor. Which makes him pretty intriguing.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.