By Jim Naveau
COLUMBUS – Before the 5-star ratings from the recruiting analysts, before Ohio State won the battle to sign him, Raekwon McMillan was a highly anticipated athlete.
McMillan, a freshman from Hinesville, Ga., was regarded as the top high school linebacker in the country when he signed with Ohio State and enrolled early in January.
Middle linebacker has not been a position of strength lately for Ohio State. From the moment McMillan signed with OSU, there has been speculation he could displace last year’s starter Curtis Grant.
Grant, a senior, also came to Ohio State as a 5-star recruit but has not made the impact expected of him when he arrived.
All the anticipation is nothing new for McMillan, who was also an eagerly awaited athlete when he entered high school. The scale is different, but the situation has some similarities.
“It’s magnified here, but my freshman year of high school I started the whole season. So there was a lot of buzz around that. I’m used to coming in my freshman year with a lot of expectations,” McMillan said.
“It’s either you break under pressure or you make diamonds with it. I’m just trying to do everything I can to progress,” he said.
Starting as a freshman again four years later is one of his goals. But he knows that decision is out of his hands.
“It’s one of my goals but we’ll see how it goes,” McMillan said. “When I was getting recruited, Coach Meyer made it clearly simple that we need linebackers here at Ohio State. He wants his type of guy here playing linebacker.”
McMillan thinks he is that kind of guy and says enrolling early contributed greatly to understanding what Meyer wanted.
“I didn’t have the shock factor when fall practice came. My first day of fall camp, I wasn’t really jittery like the other freshmen were. I was real calm and collected and knew what was coming up,” he said.
Interestingly, while he is trying to take Grant’s starting job away, that is the player he has latched onto as a mentor in his time at Ohio State.
“He has taught me a lot of things on and off the field, from the speed of the game to how to manage your time off the field. Most of my free time when I’m not playing football, I spend with Curtis,” McMillan said.
The curiosity to see what the newest 5-star linebacker brings to Ohio State extends beyond the fans. Junior linebacker Joshua Perry says players are also interested when a much-hyped recruit joins the team.
“Yeah, everybody is curious,” Perry said. Ratings are a little bit interesting. Sometimes guys come in rated really high and they have a hard time with whatever it might be in the college game. Sometimes guys come in as a three-star and they’re playing some of the best ball you’ve ever seen.
“With a guy like Raekwon, he comes in and he’s a pro from the start. He does everything right and finds an older guy and watches what they do and tries to mimic that. I think that’s a really mature thing he has done,” he said.
McMillan says he doesn’t pay a lot of attention to the attention paid to him.
“I’m just a guy who loves to play football. All the attention and stuff, it just comes with playing football,” he said.