The 18th installment of this year's Better Know a Buckeye series focuses on the marquee name of the recruiting class. Raekwon McMillan, the country's no. 1 inside linebacker prospect, enrolled at Ohio State in January after graduating from Liberty County High School in Hinesville, Georgia. He selected the Buckeyes after a two-year recruitment that saw multiple visits to Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Georgia, and South Carolina among other visits.
McMillan's development at Ohio State will be the most watched and scrutinized of perhaps any other member in this class. This feature will do well to introduce him here. I discuss his two-year recruitment in broad strokes. It was one in which McMillan had Ohio State as the leader almost since Ohio State offered him in April 2012. Thereafter, I provide footage of his commitment ceremony on NBCSports.com and Rivals.com. I proceed to a discussion of strengths and areas for improvement for a player Ohio State fans hope to contribute immediately to the program. After providing highlights of a player few expect will redshirt in 2014, I conclude with miscellaneous things about Raekwon McMillan you may find interesting. For example: he is a diligent baker who makes his own cakes and even icing from scratch.
High School: Liberty County High School; Hinesville, GA
Raekwon McMillan's recruitment spanned the better part of two complete recruiting cycles and involved numerous schools. Ohio State was a constant presenece in his recruitment when Ohio State first offered him but movement by schools like Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Georgia, Ole Miss, and South Carolina were variable. It involved multiple visits to multiple schools during those two years (e.g. six visits to Clemson alone). Rather than recap all the nuances, this review of his recruitment will be structured by major movements in general seasons of the calendar year.
It starts in the spring of 2012 when Ohio State first noticed him. The Buckeyes extended a scholarship offer in the first week of April. By that time, Georgia, Ole Miss, and South Carolina had all extended offers to the then-sophomore. A sophomore already holding offers from those three schools is one most likely to stay in the South for college. McMillan, however, had just completed his first unofficial visit to Ohio State in which he received his offer. He discussed his trip and his recruitment to Ohio State in an interview with Eleven Warriors.
You just left your visit from Ohio State. Run down how the trip went.
I got in on Sunday night and was on campus at 8 AM Monday morning with my high school coach. We started off the day by going to some of the School of Education buildings where we spoke to the head of the college, checked out some dorms, went to the stadium and on the field, and then came to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. Once at the Woody we met with the coaches and I sat in some meetings and watched some film. Then I hung out with some of the linebackers and Coach Pantoni for a while before Coach Meyer called me into his office. Coach Meyer let me put on a Buckeye jersey and take some pictures with him and then sat me down and offered me a scholarship before I left.
What was your reaction when Urban Meyer offered you a scholarship? Who else has offered thus far?
It just felt great. It's the biggest offer I have right now, with maybe Georgia being up there as well. In addition to those two schools I have offers from South Carolina, Ole Miss, and Alabama State, but I feel like now that a school like Ohio State has offered other programs will take notice and offer me sooner than they planned.
What did you like best about your trip to Ohio State?
I really liked the facilities and how everything was up to date and state of the art. I really liked the turf fields they have there because we don't see those in the south too often, with most people using natural grass.
Since the spring of 2012 was the end of just his sophomore year, the period focused more on the quality of offers that McMillan was receiving more than anything else. After receiving the offer from Ohio State, McMillan got offers from Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami, Notre Dame, and UNC. McMillan made no real progress on a decision beyond saying that Ohio State would "definitely" be in a top 5 he would have ready by the fall. He even suggested a top three of Alabama, Georgia, and Ohio State. For now, McMillan's recruitment was better characterized by the star in the making for the 2014 recruiting class.
McMillan made several visits through the summer of 2012. He identified Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Ole Miss, South Carolina, and Ohio State as places he wanted to visit though I can only locate visits he made to Clemson and Georgia. The details of those visits will not be belabored here though a recurring theme emerged from all his unofficial visits. McMillan was always effusive about places he visited and would characterize them as "the best visit" in each successive return. Still, these visits to other programs did not change that Ohio State was his early leader.
For a sure five-star prospect from the Deep South, McMillan was serious about Ohio State. He is not even from Atlanta, which may make an interest in Ohio State seem more natural. He is from Hinesville, which is about an hour south of Savannah. If it was that much of a hassle to get to Columbus (i.e. a 12-hour drive), his interest was credible.
After some confusion about whether he could make an unofficial visit to Ohio State in the summer, McMillan attended Ohio State's first Friday Night Lights camp in the summer of 2012. Like his earlier visit in the spring, he returned with glowing remarks. He discussed his recruitment to that point in a follow-up interview with Eleven Warriors.
You recently made your second trip to Ohio State. What did you get to see?
When I got there Thursday night, I met up with Ryan Shazier and Curtis Grant. They gave me a lot of good advice. Se'Von Pittman also came through. Braxton Miller stopped by as well, and we talked for a while. He gave me some really good advice. Friday, we chilled at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center before Friday Night Lights.
What was your favorite part of the visit?
Just getting to soak in the Ohio State environment and getting to see if the college is for me. I think really highly of Ohio State.
Which coaches did you speak to on the visit? What were they telling you?
I spoke with Coach Fickell, Coach Vrabel, Coach Withers, and Coach Meyer a lot. They were telling me I'm the number one linebacker on their chart and that they want me bad. I will look hard at Ohio State.
Which schools are standing out right now?
Ohio State and Georgia are tied at the top. After that it's Alabama, Clemson, and Auburn.
Ohio State remained on top of McMillan's list through that summer.
The fall of 2012 was the start of McMillan's junior year. This period was best characterized by him taking well-publicized unofficial visits to places like Clemson, Georgia, and South Carolina. He even visited Clemson twice, corresponding with a mini-surge for the Tigers in his recruitment. South Carolina's visit went well but it may have been the one of which McMillan was the least complimentary.
For the purpose of the Ohio State fan, the fall of 2012 saw McMillan follow through on a vow he made not long after he received his scholarship offer in April. McMillan made an unofficial visit to Ohio State for The Game against Michigan. The visit was everything McMillan was expecting it to be and more. In another interview with Eleven Warriors, McMillan sung Ohio State's praise after watching the Buckeyes conclude an undefeated 2012 season.
How did you like the visit and game?
It was a great visit. I got to go to one of the best rivalries of all time. The atmosphere for the game was awesome.
Which coaches did you talk to on the visit?
Coach Meyer, Coach Fickell, and Coach Withers. They all gave me great attention even though it wasn't my official visit. Coach Meyer pulled me aside and talked to me three or four times over the visit.
What did they tell you?
They tell me Ohio State is a prestigious university and say they are thin at linebacker and really need to add more linebackers.
The winter and spring of 2013 saw more of the same for McMillan. Two changes emerged in his recruitment. One, despite taking another unofficial visit in April, Georgia seemed to lose its position vis-a-vis McMillan. Alabama may have been the one to take its spot. McMillan visited Alabama for its junior day festivities and visited again in June. He even hosted Kirby Smart for an in-home visit in May.
Second, McMillan became more open that Ohio State was the leader in his recruitment. There was little doubt where Ohio State stood vis-a-vis major programs like Alabama, Clemson, and Georgia, but McMillan became less coy about his interest in the Buckeyes. Consider another interview he did with Eleven Warriors after his a visit in April of last year, his fourth unofficial visit to Ohio State.
How often do you talk to Coach Meyer?
I talk to him about once or twice a week. We usually just talk about football and catch up on recent events.
Who do you have as your leader right now?
Right now, Ohio State is on top. I don't have a list after that though. I'll have a top three, top five, top eight, top ten – something like that in a couple of weeks.
Beyond that, McMillan had taken to expressing his fandom of Ohio State and Urban Meyer, in particular, in other ways. In a Rivals Challenge combine in Atlanta, McMillan concluded an interview with Ohio State's Rivals.com affiliate with a "Go Bucks". He attended that same combine wearing Ohio State shorts.
Further, he did a free recruiting diary for 247sports in which he opened up about his relationship with Urban Meyer.
Of all the head coaches recruiting me, I'd say Urban Meyer is probably the funniest.
He calls me "Bubble." That's because he said I have a linebacker butt. I have a wide butt with a great leg base.
Every time we talk, he calls me that.
He says all great athletes have huge butts and great strength bases there. He was telling me about guys like Tim Tebow, Brandon Spikes and Percy Harvin. Guys like that. He said they were built the same way.
That's a great comparison. I just hope I can pan out like that.
To be sharing, well, "details" like that with a free recruiting diary, McMillan's relationship with Meyer had to be strong to the point of making Ohio State the prohibitive favorite.
The fall of 2013 was the start of McMillan's senior season and the beginning of a final stretch toward a decision scheduled for December or the Under Armour All-American Game. McMillan scheduled official visits, the gory details of which will not be belabored here for all schools. He visited Georgia for its game against LSU and called it a "10". He made three visits to Clemson. He used his official visit for the home finale against The Citadel and visited for the night games against Georgia and Florida State. He used another official visit on Alabama for its game against LSU.
He also visited Ohio State for its 63-14 demolition of Penn State but said surprisingly little of the visit. This is not to say he did not like his time there, just that the only difference was that this one was subsidized by Ohio State's athletic department.
Entering a decision date scheduled for December 16th, the only concern was a late rush by Auburn. Auburn had fallen off the radar after a disastrous 2012 season that saw Gene Chizik fired. However, Auburn had a new renaissance in 2013 that saw Auburn on the verge of winning the SEC West if it could defeat Alabama in the Iron Bowl. McMillan made a surprise official visit to Auburn for that game.
The visit went well, leading to a surge of optimism among the Auburn faithful. Ellis Johnson, Auburn's defensive coordinator, tried to parlay that into an in-home visit to seal the deal. In-home visits from Urban Meyer and Dabo Swinney followed.
However, most Ohio State fans expected Christmas to come nine days early when McMillan made his decision.
On December 16th, Raekwon McMillan committed to Ohio State in an announcement televised on NBCSports.com/Rivals.com. You can see an unofficial video of the ceremony here. The all-too important hat selection GIF follows.
Picking up the Alabama hat and saying he was "going to roll with Ohio State" was a nice touch if you watched the video.
Where He Excels
The Peach State has produced the no. 2 and no. 1 inside linebacker prospects in the past two recruiting cycles. Both signed with Ohio State. Trey Johnson just finished his freshman season and Raekwon McMillan enrolled in January to get a premature start on his career.
Size is becoming a commodity on defense. We know this is true for defensive backs since size is needed to counter a size advantage that mostly favors the offense in football.
This is true for linebacker in college football as well. I think the start of this movement was USC in the middle of the last decade. The Trojans under Pete Carroll cultivated a breed of linebacker that can do more than run around and create stops. Those linebackers could dominate games.
Urban Meyer, mindful of his own success with Brandon Spikes at the University of Florida, wants a similar linebacker at Ohio State. Enrolling at 6-2 and 240 pounds, McMillan has five-star size to become that mold of linebacker for Ohio State.
His size makes McMillan a capable presence in run support. I am more interested in how well McMillan performs in pass defense for a guy his size and inexperience. High school football is not a pass-heavy form of the game but McMillan shows an elite ability to flip hips and run with a tight end. It looks natural too. He wins in 7-on-7 drills that are not designed to favor linebackers of his size.
He is also a reliable hitter, running through tacklers with a vengeance as if they had wronged him in a past life.
Must Work On
I wanted to look a bit closer and read more about McMillan since he is a recruit who fans not only expect to play immediately but hope he contributes significantly.
A general truth about the best athletes transitioning from high school football to college football is that athleticism can be a crutch. The best athletes rely on athleticism to correct for fundamental mistakes. For McMillan, he tends to take a lot of false steps. He will bite on counter action or play action, in essence running into a block. He can compensate with athleticism in high school. He cannot do that in college, not even against programs like Illinois and Purdue.
His lateral ability is there but the discipline to move laterally is not quite there. He cuts behind blockers when he should scrape over the top. He cannot reliably do that in college.
I think he plays too high because he could in high school. Few players were his size. He will need to play lower, aim lower in his tackles, and do better to make the first contact and shed blocks.
No. McMillan is playing as a true freshman. The questions are where and how much. There is no entrenched hierarchy at linebacker that would preclude him from having a freshman All-American season. He could just as easily do spot duty without any real fanfare. I think he is a definite special teams player in 2014 at the least.
This is senior year.
- 11W Community Interview.
- Did McMillan turn down Georgia over a horrifically ugly hand-drawn portrait?
- High School Butkus Award winner.
- Named a USA Today All-American as a senior, joining Dante Booker Jr. as the only two Buckeye commits on that list.
- McMillan played in the Under Armour All-American Game along with Jamarco Jones.
- Don't be this guy if some five-star prospect chooses your rival.
- My recap of his recruitment may have downplayed the extent to which Alabama was a major player in McMillan's recruitment through the first few months of 2013. Ultimately, Alabama's position with McMillan faded when Alabama started getting linebacker commitments through the summer of 2013. The Tide signed four linebackers in 2014.
- I misplaced the source for this but McMillan has indicated he would probably be at Florida if Meyer were still there. Gainesville is just three hours from his home and it would be convenient. In short, McMillan's signature with Ohio State is basically all on Urban Meyer. This was his recruitment of McMillan more than it was a recruitment by Fickell, Vrabel, or Withers.
- McMillan's high school made the playoffs at long last in McMillan's senior season. It was bounced 27-7 by Westover in its first playoff game.
- Mom is serious about academics. If McMillan dropped below a 3.0 in high school, his mom would have yanked him from the sport.
- His mom was also quick to praise him as an excellent baker. He bakes cakes and even the icing from scratch. "The Chef" may be an appropriate nickname for more than one reason.
- He did ROTC in high school as well.
- He finished his senior season with 159 tackles, 35.5 TFLs, 8.5 sacks. He also had almost 700 rushing yards as the team's tailback.