By Ben Johnson
CNHI News Service
TAHLEQUAH – A notion keeps popping up in Mason McMillan’s head. It keeps reappearing during the summer months as he transitions from a high school senior to a college freshman.
The thought of playing college football in his own hometown is something that keeps manifesting itself within his brain.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about that,” McMillan said. “I think there is going to be some pressure, definitely. I can’t mess up.”
Well, so far so good for McMillan. Tahlequah’s single-season rushing record holder has been a regular in the weight room with his Northeastern State teammates this summer. That alone has helped him get a feel for what life has in store for him as NSU’s season approaches.
“I’m learning a lot from the older guys,” said McMillan, who rushed for 1,241 yards during his senior season at Tahlequah High School.
“So far we’ve just been doing weight lifting, but I’ve learned a little technique.”
In the coming weeks, he’ll get a chance to take pointers from Joel Rockmore, Terrence Dixon and Zack Simmons — NSU’s top three ball carriers during the 2012 season.
“From every guy that I’ve talked to, they say the game in college is a lot faster,” McMillan said. “I’m looking forward to watching them and seeing how they adjust to that.”
The problem McMillan will face is playing time. With Rockmore, Dixon and Simmons combining for 1,500 rushing yards on 285 carries, it could be hard for McMillan to crack the rotation right away.
One plus for McMillan, though, is NSU head coach Kenny Evans, who has been a big fan of McMillan’s for quite some time now.
“I was excited about him during his early years at Tahlequah,” Evans said. “The thing I liked about him is that he has the body build where he can get bigger.”
However, even Evans is unsure of McMillan’s spot on the roster right now.
“I don’t know if he’ll end up being a running back,” Evans said. “He could be a fullback, a linebacker or a safety.”
McMillan expressed a desire to do whatever necessary to be able to get out on the field during his freshman campaign.
“I’m comfortable doing special teams,” McMillan said. “I’m fine playing anything. I played on kickoff as a freshman at Tahlequah, and I really enjoyed that. So, we’ll see.”
One thing McMillan and Evans haven’t spent much time pondering is the option of redshirting.
“I don’t intend on redshirting right now,” McMillan said. “But, we’ll see what happens.”
Evans even told McMillan to plan on playing sooner rather than later.
“I told him, ‘don’t plan on redshirting,’” Evans said. “...At some point over the next four years, he may not play and the redshirt my happen naturally. With so many guys we have coming back, it’ll be hard for him. But he could help on special teams, and in doing that, he could have an impact pretty quick.”