While the Valley Huskers have received a lot of preseason hype for their offensive acquisitions, Danny Mills has slipped under the radar on the defensive side.
Back in Husker green after two years away, the 2014 BC Football Conference Defensive Rookie of the Year is bringing veteran savvy to a young secondary and could be a major addition.
The Robert Bateman grad played for the Adam Smith led Huskers in 2014 and 2015, learning the junior football ropes while facing the likes of Nathan Lund, Derek Yachison, Daniel English and Malcolm Williams.
“Don’t find any video of me versus Lund,” Mills laughed. “You’ll see me flopping all over the field trying to catch that guy.
“He was a monster.”
Over two campaigns and 15 games the Abbotsford native had 43 passes defensed, one interception and 26 tackles. Mills caught the eye of the U-Sports Saskatchewan Huskies, who brought the DB in for two seasons, 2016-17.But Mills played sparingly at the university level, dressing for 10 games and rarely getting on the field. When the 2017 campaign ended, he figured it was time to hit the reset button.
He is a different player now than he was when he was last in Chilliwack.
Bigger and stronger for sure.
Mills stands six-feet tall.
When he left the Huskers in 2015 he weighed 170 and he now weighs 190, standing out among the Husker DBs for his size.
“I remember trying to tackle running backs and receivers when I was here before and just nipping at their ankles,” he said. “Now I’m taking on fullbacks head on in the hole.”
Mills is smarter too.
Even if he didn’t play a lot, he learned a lot from Husky coaches like ex-CFLer Paul Woldu.
“My coaches in Saskatchewan were very knowledgeable, with next-level thinking,” Mills said. “Paul played for the Roughriders and Alouettes and he taught me a lot about situational play.
“‘What point in the game is it? How much are you down by? How much are you up by? What do they need to get? What’s the down and distance and where on the field are you?’
“Sure, I gained a lot of muscle when I was there, but more importantly I understand the mental part of the game so much more.”
The Huskers secondary is a young and athletic group, with all-star calibre guys like Josh Robinson and Desmond Jeanson in the mix.
They have the physical ability to tangle with anything the BCFC throws at them.They are confident to the point of being brash, which is a double-edged sword.
When things are going well, they’ve got swagger for days, but when an opponent is lighting them up, they can get frustrated and lose the script.
Mills projects as the missing ingredient, the assignment-sure vet who can calm the kids down and make sure they are where they need to be.
“There was a moment in our spring-camp scrimmage when (head coach) Bob (Reist) was getting antsy watching us get burned on a couple throws,” Mills said. “I think I even calmed him down a bit with the way I was doing my job properly and maintaining my poise.”
Mills can also make sure his teammates are keeping their heads on straight and not taking stupid penalties out of emotion.
“If the opposing receiver has done something to piss them off, I’ve just to got to remind our guys that it’s not about them,” Mills explained. “We might be up by a touchdown or down by a touchdown and we can’t afford 15 yards.
“We need to be looking at the big picture, team over individual, and I need to remind our guys to take a step back and take a deep breath.”
The Huskers were schedule to play the Langley Rams in a Saturday scrimmage at Exhibition Stadium, but that has been pushed back to July 28 and will now be held in Langley.
The Huskers will open their season at home, Aug. 5 at 2 p.m. vs the Vancouver Island Raiders.
“The first thing Bob said to us at our first practice was, ‘Shut up and do your job. We’re here to win football games and that’s the only thing that matters,’” Mills said. “That set the tone for me right away and that has been reflected in every practice since. He is serious and we are serious and our DB group can’t wait for the Raiders.”