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    Friday, January 27, 2023

    CGA’s Spencer McMillion has quietly put up loud numbers

    Coast Guard’s Spencer McMillion, right, receives the handoff from quarterback Tafari Wall and runs it for a touchdown during a 2021 victory over Nichols. This season, McMillion has 1,079 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns for the Bears (3-6), who finish the season today with a game at rival Merchant Marine. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Senior running back Spencer McMillion turns and runs down field after catching a pass as the U.S. Coast Guard Academy football team participates in its first practice of the season, Aug. 11, at Cadet Memorial Field. (Daniel Passapera/Special to The Day)
    Coast Guard’s Spencer McMillion, left, celebrates his touchdown with teammate Cody Fidler during a 2021 game against Nichols. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    New London — Unless Coast Guard Academy head football coach C.C. Grant has a specific request for Spencer McMillion, he doesn’t hear much from his star running back.

    “He’ll say, ‘Hey, coach, what’s up?’ That’s about it,” Grant was saying this week. “I can go through two weeks of practice and I never heard Spence say a word. ... And he’s the man.”

    The loudest version of McMillion, a 5-foot-9, 180-pound former linebacker from Laurel, Maryland, is when he’s smashing through the offensive line, bouncing off tacklers, sometimes dragging defenders along for the ride.

    McMillion, the Bears’ backup last season at running back behind Jared Colletti, became the starter this season with Colletti’s transfer to Catholic University. And McMillion, the quiet guy, is now “the man” at Coast Guard (3-6).

    Entering Saturday’s season-finale at Merchant Marine (noon, ESPN3), the senior has carried the ball 212 times for 1,079 yards and 15 touchdowns in eight games, missing a game and a half due to an ankle injury.

    He broke Coast Guard records for most carries in a single game (43) and most rushing yards in a game (285) in a Sept. 24 victory over Anna Maria, in which McMillion also ran for five touchdowns.

    The previous record for carries in a game was 42, set by James Jones in 1996 in a season the Bears made the NCAA tournament. The rushing yardage record formerly belonged to Jon Tillman (277), set in 2003.

    McMillion is ninth in the nation in Division III in rushing yards, tied for fifth in rushing touchdowns.

    Yet, humble as always, McMillion thinks Colletti was better than he is.

    “I think in terms of technical skill ... growing up I didn’t always play running back; during club ball I played offensive line and then I was also a linebacker. My background isn’t necessarily being the sole runner for a team,” McMillion said.

    “So, in terms of skill, (Colletti) has a lot more maneuverability. He can cut better than me, I think, where I’m just kind of a bullet going forward, making one or two cuts.”

    In defense of McMillion, however, when offensive coordinator JB Wells was hired during the offseason, he thought the attack he had planned and the workload was going to require a two-back rotation. Just that McMillion never gets tired.

    Wells, who has coached extensively at the Division III level, including head coaching stints at Endicott and Bowdoin, making two NCAA tournament appearances at Endicott, credits McMillion as being one of the most complete backs he’s ever seen.

    “I think the thing that makes Spence special for us is he has great vision and he has great patience,” Wells said. “A lot of times, you could just send him back into the line and hope you get what you get, but he has the ability to kind of be patient with his footwork and then he can see where the run opens up. A lot of guys might only see it one way.”

    Wells isn’t finished praising McMillion.

    “I think he’s taken advantage of the opportunity to kind of step into a role where he had to be ‘the man,’” Wells said. “He’s stepped up every time we’ve asked him to do it.

    “He’s a very complete back. I’ve been at other places where I might have had a back that was a great runner but he wasn’t a great blocker. Or he was a great blocker but he wasn’t a good receiver. He could do this but he couldn’t do that. Spence is as complete a running back as I’ve ever coached.”

    ***

    McMillion is a mechanical engineering major who hadn’t given an enormous amount of thought to playing football in college.

    He learned of the Coast Guard Academy while at a college fair at Bowie State University, where former Coast Guard defensive back Prince Neal, a member of the Class of 1995, was there pitching his alma mater.

    Neal, now retired from the military, was the commanding officer at Coast Guard Air Station Washington at that time. He gave McMillion his card, which McMillion still carries in his wallet.

    “There was a pilot there that just kind of introduced me to, ‘Hey, this is the Coast Guard Academy. This is kind of like what we do here. This is kind of an opportunity for you if you want it,’” McMillion said. “I kind of owe him a thank you for where I’m at right now.”

    McMillion got a bid to Naval Academy Prep School in Newport, R.I., a program which sends its cadets to the Naval Academy, as well as Coast Guard. McMillion started at Coast Guard as a receiver, missed a season due to COVID-19 (the Bears played a one-game season in 2020) and last year carried 46 times for 305 yards and three touchdowns.

    His first varsity carry went for a 71-yard touchdown against Nichols, against whom he rushed for 135 yards on 11 carries, season highs in both categories.

    This season, McMillion has had 30-or-more carries four times and has rushed for more than 100 yards five times, more than 200 yards twice. In a three-game sequence prior to being injured against Norwich, McMillion rushed for 601 yards and 11 touchdowns.

    “In terms of expectations, I just do the best I can,” McMillion said. “That’s all I really can do. What coach (Wells) is coaching, what he’s trying to get done and how he wants to do it, just trusting that process and then trusting my line and trusting that they’re going to open up a hole for me.”

    The running game has given the Bears extraordinary balance this season. While McMillion leads the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference in rushing yards per game (134.9), quarterback Joey Armentrout is second in the league with 219.2 yards passing per game.

    The Bears average 398.3 yards offense per game, on the cusp of breaking the Coast Guard record for total offense in a season (3,677, the Bears now have 3,585).

    “That forces teams into playing you honest,” Grant said of the balance. “One part of your offense is going to open up the other part.”

    McMillion’s parents, Scott and Tracey, work for the U.S. government. Scott is the FBI’s chief diversity officer, while Tracey, who has a law degree, works at the U.S. Patent Trademark Office.

    McMillion likes to read and has taken up drawing and painting, sometimes in his room at Coast Guard’s Chase Hall.

    He’s enjoyed the camaraderie of the academy — “just having people who are kind of in the same boat as you; you know you’re all going to have pretty much the same job all around the country.”

    And he’s enjoyed the camaraderie of the football team.

    “I’m very excited to finish it out,” McMillion said of facing Merchant Marine one final time. “This is the one where it’s just like, ‘Leave everything on the field.’”

    v.fulkerson@theday.com

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