Raekwon McMillan Sets Out on Path That was Charted Nearly Two Decades Ago

By Kyle Rowland on July 17, 2014 at 8:30a
Raekwon McMillan

Before he even played for Ohio State, Andy Katzenmoyer was a household name in Columbus. The product of Westerville South was held out of contact practices in high school because of the ferocity with which he hit ball carriers.

By the time he enrolled at Ohio State for the 1996 season – a year after Michigan running back Tim Biakabutuka’s 314-yard tour de force – the hoopla surrounding Katzenmoyer was becoming a burden. He wore No. 45 to honor Archie Griffin, which attracted endless attention, and predictions of his instant impact were in every newspaper and magazine.

Then the games began.

In the season opener against Rice, Katzenmoyer led the team in tackles (eight), tackles for loss (three) and sacks (two). He finished his freshman season with an astounding 23 tackles for loss and 12 sacks. Katzenmoyer remains the lone Buckeye to ever start the opener at linebacker as a true freshman. 

Could Raekwon McMillan be next?

“Raekwon looks real good,” fellow linebacker Curtis Grant said. “He’s really talented. He comes in with a lot of things freshmen don’t come in with. When a guy comes in that talented, it makes you want to work on your craft more and do the things you need to do to continue to get better.”

In some ways it already appears that history is repeating itself. McMillan isn’t from Central Ohio – or anywhere in the state, for that matter – and he won’t be wearing the number of an all-time great. But like 1995, 2013 ended with a groan.  

The Buckeyes lost the final two games of both seasons after carrying national championship aspirations deep into the year. It was Michigan and Tennessee who humbled Ohio State in 1995 – Michigan State and Clemson played the role of spoiler in 2013.

Another similarity: Ohio State’s uninspiring linebacker play.

John Cooper was forced to move outside linebacker Greg Bellisari inside during the ’95 season, which contributed to defensive breakdowns in that infamous Michigan game. In 2012, Urban Meyer shifted Zach Boren from fullback to middle linebacker, while Grant occupied the position last season.

A key ingredient for the 1996 team was Katzenmoyer’s ability to make the middle of the defense an asset. Eighteen years later, McMillan, the nation’s top middle linebacker recruit, could do the same.

Current co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell was a four-year starter on the 1996 team. It’s safe to say he was skeptical of an 18-year-old freshman being thrust into a leading role.

“Deep down I was concerned,” Fickell said in a 1996 Sports Illustrated profile of Katzenmoyer. “The first couple of games, I thought, What’s this kid going to do when it comes down to a big play? Will he remember to pick up the back coming up the middle on a wheel route?”

Fickell once again has a front-row seat to a freshman phenom. This time, his opinion has changed.  

“Can a freshman do it? Yeah, he can,” Fickell said during the spring.

But in the same breath he spoke about the importance of veterans.

“We need senior leadership,” Fickell said. “You’re best when your seniors play best. You can evaluate all the years I’ve been here, when the seniors play really well, you’re going to have a good season.”

It’s hard to dispute Fickell’s statement. Championship teams have been built on veterans across the entire sports landscape for decades. But there’s no automatic disqualification if teams utilize young talent. College basketball is becoming younger and younger, Tom Brady won his first Super Bowl as a second-year unknown and Tim Duncan’s presence factored into the Spurs’ worst-to-first two-year rise.

The 1996 Buckeyes were loaded with first-year players who were complemented by veteran leadership. The freshmen included Katzenmoyer, David Boston and Michael Wiley, with upperclassmen Fickell, Bellisari, Mike Vrabel, Orlando Pace and Shawn Springs acted as reinforcements.

Might 2014 feature McMillan, Curtis Samuel and Johnnie Dixon as the heralded freshmen and Braxton Miller, Michael Bennett, Devin Smith and Doran Grant serving as the veterans? Meyer’s value in freshmen has never been hidden.

“He always tells us that he wants incoming freshmen to play early,” McMillan said. “He wants us not to sit back and relax and wait for the next guy, but to practice every day like you’re competing for a job and attack every drill like it’s your last drill.

“I know nothing is given at Ohio State.”

After a season that bore witness to missed tackles galore and blown coverages by the bushel, help is needed. The possibility that it points to a freshman linebacker is not far-fetched, even if a senior is ahead of him on the depth chart. Meyer and Fickell aren’t expecting historic Katzenmeyer-esque numbers. They just want production.   

“I think I’ll be able to get it pretty quickly because in high school I was told to run the defense on the field and told to make adjustments according to the offense on the field," McMillan said. “Your coach has to have trust in you. I felt like in high school everybody on my coaching staff trusted me, and even if I did make a bad call on the field, I’ll go 100 percent and fly to the ball. That makes up for a lot of errors.”

Some might say tabbing Grant as the next big thing – the title McMillan currently holds – was an error or mistake of towering heights. But the Virginia native has steadily improved since Meyer came on board. Grant knows from experience how difficult it can be to see the field as a freshman.

The game is considerably different than high school, no matter what players think before they’re actually in a game. But changes to the Buckeyes’ defensive philosophy have made the unit simpler to grasp.

Still, accomplishing something only one other player has achieved in the history of the tradition-rich program would be, well, historic.

“Every day, I come in with the mindset that the five-star stuff and high school really don’t matter anymore,” McMillan said. “All that can be thrown in the trash can right now because I’m just a freshman in college who got here in January. I have to come in and work hard like everybody else so I can make a name for myself on the field.”


Comments Show All Comments

JohnnyKozmo's picture

I don't know about anyone else, but with the talent that has been assembled in the Front 7, I would love to see some variety in personnel, instead of the traditional 4-3 all the time, throw in some 3-4, 4-4, 5-2, etc.  I may be in the minority, but I think C Grant could be in for a big year, but that would mean Kwon wouldn't see the amount of time the Big Kat did.  The answer-figure out how to get them on the field at the same time.

A simplified approach in the secondary should do wonders, so hopefully, the front 7 can just play a down hill style and eat everything up.

Did I mention I am excited to see this Defense return to form this year???

Pain don't hurt-Dalton

+7 HS
YTOWNBUCKI's picture

Ohio State typically runs a 4-2-5 nickel package when playing spread type teams which is basically everyone now except Navy.  The LB Corps looks good, but I don't want to see Kwon or Grant or any of those guys having to cover slot receivers constantly in a 4-3 4-4 or a 5-2, which would be clinically insane in today's game.

CJDPHoS Board of Directors

Go get your shine box, Gumar!

+1 HS
cdub4's picture

Ohio State will be running for more 4-3 fronts under Ash's system, and less nickel or 4-2-5..In the new system the slot wr would more likely be covered by the walk out linebacker (Lee, Worley) not Grant or Kwon.

+1 HS
JohnnyKozmo's picture

Wisconsin, MSU, Va Tech all run pro-style, run based offenses too.  I'm not expecting either one of those guys to be covering slot receivers, just more of a pipe dream seeing both of them meet a RB in the hole and plant him 5yds behind the line.

Pain don't hurt-Dalton

Calgarybuck's picture

I'd love to see OSU run a 3-4 and coming up next year I wouldn't be surprised to see a 3-4/ 3-5 with all the LB's we'll have.  Imagine Carter at NT with Bosa and Diesel as 290 pound DE's with our mutant LB's.

Oklahoma Buckeye's picture

I thought that towards the end of last season! Have an extra DB or LB instead of 4 defensive linemen. Especially since they played the heck out of zone coverage!

Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing that matters. Good thing I'm a buckeye!

Jeremypreemo81's picture

I am very excited to Rae take the field this year.  The rejuvination at LB for OSU begins with him and the Dream 14 LB class.

+1 HS
Barnsey69's picture

"I have to come in and work hard like everybody else so I can make a name for myself on the field.”

You see variations of this quote all the time from players when they are interviewed, however I really think Raekwon believes this whole-heartedly. He comes in with a lot of hype, much like the guy in front of him, but my radar just says winner with this one. Regardless of his actual designation on August 30th, he will see the field, and I can't wait to watch him play. 

Thank the Maker that I was born in Ohio, cradle of coaches, US Presidents, confederate-stomping Generals, and home of The Ohio State University Football Buckeyes- 2014 UNDISPUTED National Champions!

+2 HS
Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

Hopefully we can blow some teams out this year and get to a point where we can rotate in the depth chart to gain experience.  Defense being as bad as it was last year, we had to keep the foot on the gas the entire game.  

Read my entire screen name....

+1 HS
BeijingBucks's picture

I've been thinking about this. Would we rather have brax blow out teams in the first half with the D backing him up?  Or stay in, risking injury and racking up video game, heismanic stats?

i would love to see our back ups get some reps so I could rest easier for next year but at the same time, feel this is our last chance to see brax do damage in scarlet and grey [sob]

None can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license. ~ John Milton

+1 HS
Woodysghost's picture

My heart tells me leave the guy in to watch the magic as much as we can before its over. But my brain knows that any reps we can give those back up QB's are going to go a long way in developing them for next year. I'm torn. 

+1 HS
shaggybuckeye's picture

Not only next year, but in the unfortunate event that Brax has to sit due to (god forbid) injury or a jarring hit. He hasn't made it through an entire season yet without having to sit at least a few series... Early reps for the backups is hugely important with Miller's injury track record.

+1 HS
Mr Soul's picture

hopefully we can blow some teams out so Rae can take a breather in the 4th qtr.

Keep the change, ya filthy animal!

+1 HS
buckeyes33's picture

I think we are all excited to see this young star studded team take the field. This is the beginning of something special. Go Bucks.

+2 HS
MN Buckeye's picture

The speed, physicality, and mental aspects of the college game are incredibly challenging, so it is rare when a freshman can come in and play QB or middle linebacker. But it seems that Raekwon has it all, and it is just a matter of when he gets on the field.

+1 HS
Carson's picture

I come in with the mindset that the five-star stuff and high school really don’t matter anymore

What an outstanding quote from him. With the success of 3-star guys like AJ Hawk and Bradley Roby (and countless others), I've seen star rankings as merely hype-inducers.

That being said, I can't wait to see who'll bring the juice this season!

+2 HS
wyatt's picture

It's 2014 (not 2013) isn't it?   Raekwon will play. Just don't wear number 45.

jonping67's picture

I think Raekwon will be a good and maybe even a great LB for the Buckeyes, but I am most interested in seeing #33 Donte Booker. I watched him play in high school and this kid has it all. I won't be surprised if he makes a run at Darren Lee's LB position.

The rode ahead at the LB position looks really bright, next stop - Silver Bullets!

+1 HS
DCBucki's picture

The staff is pretty high on Lee right now and I think he's going to have a great year!! An embarrassment of riches in the front 7, but I'll take it!!

"The deadliest weapon in the world is a MARINE and his rifle!"

Furious George 27's picture

Katzenmoyer was 18yrs ago....Damn I feel old now.

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

+6 HS
chitown buckeye's picture

Was going to post the same thing! One of, if not, my favourite buckeyes of all time! We both set foot on campus together.... his was a slightly bigger footprint then mine.

"I'm having a heart attack!"

buckguyfan1's picture

Turn up the heat Chef.

+11 HS
Run_Fido_Run's picture

Yesterday. in the Chris Ash thread, Big Papa commented about another interesting parallel between the 1996 and 2014 seasons was that, like Chris Ash going into this season, Fred Pagac was brought in in 1996 to help fix the D's woes: 

Hopefully he [Ash] has the same impact that Fred Pagac had when he took over the defense in 1996. We went from a pathetic passive defense that gave up a zillion yards to Michigan and Tennessee in 1995 (sound familiar?) to an aggressive blitzing juggernaut in 1996. One of the best OSU defenses of all time. That is when the Silver Bullets were born.

yep, let's hope that Ash + McMillian + a bunch of other promising factors restores the dominance of the Silver bullets in 2014.

+2 HS
whobdis's picture

Yea..I remember Pagac saying the most important players in his scheme were his corners. He said if they could cover one/one he could do lots of 'fun stuff' with the rest of the players. And he did..always kept teams off balance

+1 HS
jamesrbrown322's picture

Ahh how I miss Pagac.

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." - Winston Churchill

+2 HS
Knarcisi's picture

The CBs surely helped. Springs and Ty Howard. Winfield was the backup and nickel guy, I believe as a sophomore. That's how good we were at CB. 

jamesrbrown322's picture

Also had Damon Moore, Rob Kelly, Gary Berry, and Central McLellion that played in the League. I did always think that Ty Howard was the forgotten man in the defensive backfield. He was pretty damn good.

Pagac really brought an attacking style to OSU's D that I have not seen since, including the Heacock era. Don't get me wrong, Heacock was great, but Pagac's D seemed to be much more aggressive and attacking, while Heacock mostly utilized the DLine to get pressure, as opposed to crashing LBs and DBs.

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." - Winston Churchill

rosenbuck's picture

I wouldn't trade Tressel obviously, but man I wanted Pagac to get the job after Coop.  I still think he would have done pretty well.

Yenots11's picture

Katzenmoyer, David Boston and Michael Wiley, with upperclassmen Fickell, Bellisari, Mike Vrabel, Orlando Pace and Shawn Springs 

For all of Cooper's shortcomings, that man could recruit. That's a hell of a list of name's right there. For what it's worth that team also had Antoine Winfield, Joe Germaine, Dimitrious Stanley (no idea he averaged almost 20 yds a catch that year...i was 10). Side note: Katz also had 4 picks that year.

And just think, with Urban's recruiting ability, we'll be able to look back in another 18 years, and just go "holy hell, that's a legendary list of names".

Go Bucks!! 

"Aut viam inveniam aut faciam!"

+6 HS
mjfiore's picture

I went to high school with a few guys who were recruited by Cooper, and I played against and took classes with Katz.  The story is that his recruiting pitch essentially based around getting you into the NFL, and not much of anything else (ie, beating Michigan, Big Ten titles, etc.).

Buckeye love in the Big Apple

buckeyedude's picture

I was thinking the same thing. How the hell did that team not win a NC?



TedGinnIsFasterThanYou's picture

The Big Kat had riiiiiiiidiculous lateral speed.

+3 HS
KevinJ's picture

I will never forget this hit, hopefully McMillan will ad a hit or 2 like this to the old memory bank.

+22 HS
dan_isaacs's picture

It's the neck roll.  It's gotta be the neck roll.

Dan Isaacs

+2 HS
whobdis's picture

I was in Mexico for that game..I found a sports bar and most of the people were paying no attention to the game. But when they reshowed the play they were all pointing at the big screen.

Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

Man that's a beautiful thing.  People just don't form tackle like that anymore.  

Read my entire screen name....

+3 HS
NuttyBuckeye's picture

Exactly - tackling has almost become a lost art.  Big Kat was a naval destroyer on that play - blew up the ball carrier with perfect form, wrapping up the ball carrier, too!  That is what is lost, too many tackle with "dinosaur arms" now.

What's round on the ends and high in the middle? Tell me if you know!

+2 HS
OnlyOne's picture

Watch his feet.  They keep moving even after making contact, drive through the ball carrier.  So many players just throw their bodies at the carrier, a la Roby last season.  Big hits, but big backs, a la Carlos Hyde, maybe break stride, but regain balance and add more yards.

+1 HS
shaggybuckeye's picture

I remember having been in a car accident earlier in the week before that game and thinking I got off easy compared to that guy. Damn the Big Kat had some monster hits.

+1 HS
swainpm's picture

Every time I see that hit all I hear between my ears is, "That is just a bad man right there. A bad man."

+1 HS
ElGato69's picture

The QB who was obliterated by that hit was Corby Jones.  Also to put this game in perspective, of the 6 interceptions that Jones threw that year, 3 of them were against the Buckeyes.  Badass defense, indeed.

Another great memory of the Big Kat I have from the same year was watching the Iowa game from south stands.  The Hawkeyes had RB Tavian Banks, who I believe at the time was leading the nation with over 200 rushing yards per game.  Iowa fans were woofing about how Tavian would come into Columbus & run all over the Buckeyes as they had been doing to all their previous opponents.

On 1st down of the first offensive series by the Hawkeyes, Tavian got the handoff and headed toward a gap in the line, only to be blown up for a several yard loss by none other than #45.  Ohio Stadium exploded after that hit, and it never got any better for Banks, as he finished the series with 3 carries for -2 yards and the day with 22 carries for 84 yards.  Here's a quote from Banks (from the NY Times):

"'I think he probably won the Butkus Award today,'' Banks said. ''He was all over the field. He was in the backfield more often than I was today. He came in from the back side and he came in from the front side. He has great quickness. We expected that. We just couldn't do anything about it."

If Raekwon is a portion of the player that Katzenmoyer was, we are all certainly in for a special treat.

+3 HS
Hovenaut's picture

I too remember that hit fondly.

At the house in undergrad school, drinking it up with my roomies (most of whom were PSU fans), went apesh!t after the hit. Genesis of the Silver Bullets indeed.

Not sure if it was that same season, but I remember a goal line hit Katz had against a Wisconsin ballcarrier that was nearly as devastating - anyone remember that one?

+2 HS
dan_isaacs's picture

Reads headline:  "Nah, that's insane, the Big Kat started as a frosh"
Reads first line:  "Fuck.  I'm old."

Dan Isaacs

+6 HS
Phutatorius's picture

McMillan: all that talent AND he wants to liberate the house-elves.

(Bear with me: I'm reading Goblet of Fire to my kids.)

+5 HS
TMac511's picture

I'm loving the humility he is showing as a true freshman. He knows he has a chance to be on the field on August 30, but he wants to earn it. Excited to see him.

+1 HS
NuttyBuckeye's picture

Me too!  This young man is a model student athlete for our beloved university.   He speaks so very well for an 18-year old.

What's round on the ends and high in the middle? Tell me if you know!

CC's picture

Pump the breaks.  This is Dontre 2.0.  Taking the best freshman LB in Ohio State history and using that as the bar will only lead to failure.

Big Kat had a monster hit in the ASU game that year as well.

+4 HS
ECBeastor's picture

Who's the camera girl in the background? That's what I want to know. Get here in a calendar with some Daisy Dukes, them legs is thicker than a bowl of oatmeal.  

+5 HS
Gametime's picture

Not gonna lie...I thought the same thing...like dem thighs...

Between goals and achievement is discipline and consistency. That fire you have inside to do whatever you love is placed there by God. Now go claim it. ~ Denzel Washington

-1 HS
whiskeyjuice's picture

I am very excited to see our defense this year!!

"Championships are not won on Saturdays in November. Championships are won on Tuesdays in August." -- Kerry Combs

elijahryoung's picture

Am I the only one who is disappointed that the lady in the background is married?


-1 HS
ECBeastor's picture

I ain't the jealous type, I'll share.  

I did look at that ring finger, but I can't tell if it's a diamond or just a ring.  However, it would make complete sense, that a fine female specimen such as that, would be spoken for.  She probably can't go out in public without being bombarded by suitors.  

-1 HS