Dec. 30, 2016
Andy Demetra | Inside the Chart
It had already been a good week for Dedrick Mills. The freshman B-back turned 20 on Monday. He plays in his first bowl game, the TaxSlayer Bowl at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, on Saturday (11 a.m. ET, Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network).
But the highlight of Mills’ week may have come Thursday afternoon, when the Yellow Jackets took a guided tour of the USS New York at Naval Station Mayport, one of three major Navy installations in the Jacksonville area.
The trip doubled as a family reunion for Mills. His older brother, Yeoman second class (YN2) Kenny Mills, has been stationed at Mayport for the past two years.
Kenny, dressed in his digital blue Navy fatigues, met Dedrick as the Yellow Jackets boarded the battleship. He currently serves on another ship at the base.
“I support him 100 percent. He supports me 100 percent. It’s just brotherly love,” said Dedrick, a Waycross, Ga., native who rushed for 75.2 yards per game and 11 touchdowns in his debut season on The Flats.
Kenny, 22, stopped playing football after the ninth grade, realizing his future lay with academics. He enlisted in the Navy after graduating 32nd in his class at Ware County High School, attracted to the idea of travelling the world and serving his country. His deployments have taken him to such far-flung locales as Portugal, Spain, France, Bahrain, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. He also finds time to play in a flag football league at Mayport (his position: wide receiver).
“I love the Navy. Being where we came from, the Navy has given me everything that I ever wanted, ever needed. Being that I’m stateside and I’m able to support him, I love it,” said Kenny, the oldest of four brothers (Dedrick is the second-oldest).
In his current rank, Mills is in charge of all administrative work for his commanding and executive officers. He also tends to junior personnel, which includes discipline, evaluations and rewards. When he found out that the Yellow Jackets received a bid to the TaxSlayer Bowl — their reward for an 8-4 regular season — he could barely contain his excitement.
“I follow the page on Facebook instantly. As soon as I saw it, I was like, `Thank God,’ because I wanted to go to the game. I was so happy that I was able to make the game,” he said.
“I have people at work. They follow [Dedrick] too. They were like, `Hey man, when are they coming? ‘They’ve already bought tickets to the game.”
Kenny attended one other game this year, Georgia Tech’s Oct. 1 contest against Miami at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Dedrick rushed for a career-high 99 yards and scored all three touchdowns in Tech’s 35-21 loss. The game still had extra meaning: his brother carried the American flag out of the pregame tunnel.
He’s looking forward to seeing him again this Saturday, where Mills will try to put one last grace note on his freshman season. It hasn’t been without its hardships, some of them self-inflicted (Mills missed three games because of suspension). Still, the battering-ram B-back had the third-most rushing touchdowns in the nation among true freshmen. He was twice named ACC Rookie of the Week. In his last press conference before leaving for Jacksonville, Mills beamed when talking about his strong finish academically.
Not that his brother is easily impressed.
“I was always tough on him. I’m tough on him now,” said Kenny. “Even if he puts up stats. You can ask him. I know every play that he’s fittin’ to run. I know everything that he’s done. I tell him, `Alright, this is the play you should have run.'”
Like his running style, Dedrick couldn’t resist dishing it back.
“He’s a Georgia fan,” he countered.
Kenny gave a sly smile. Indeed, he says, he grew up a fan of the Bulldogs. Several of his crewmates are Georgia fans, too. So how did Kenny handle his allegiances last month, when Georgia Tech downed Georgia, 28-27, and Mills ran for a touchdown.
He paused, searching for the right words. “I was happy. I’ve turned into a Georgia Tech supporter, rather than a fan,” he said.
More smiles and busting of chops would ensue. Kenny — taller and rangier than Dedrick, but with the same rounded cheeks and almond-shaped eyes – joined Dedrick on their tour of the USS New York, eating barbecue lunch together in the mess hall. On Saturday, they’ll see each other again when Georgia Tech faces Kentucky, 18 miles inland from the Naval Station Mayport.
In the stands, a Yeoman second class will be watching proudly. On the field, a freshman B-back will be doing the yeoman’s work for the Yellow Jackets.