Freshman lineman TJ McMillen at the center of St. Francis' quarterfinal run
St. Francis freshman center TJ McMillen had to trust his instincts.
More importantly, he had to trust his father.
McMillen’s strong play is one of the main factors in the Spartans reaching the Class 4A quarterfinal round. They defeated Genoa-Kington 21-12 on Saturday to advance to play undefeated Coal City on the road at 2 p.m. this Saturday.
Back in August, McMillen was named the starting center for a team with the talent and aspiration to make a run at the Class 4A state championship.
At the time, McMillen was happy to be promoted to the varsity so early in his career. His youth days consisted of playing mainly left tackle and right tackle on the offensive side.
“I was very nervous because it was my first time playing center,” McMillen said. “I wasn’t sure what to do in my first game.”
McMillen is a familiar name around the St. Francis program. His father, Bob McMillen, is the head coach for the Spartans (10-1).
But the younger McMillen, at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, proved he belonged on the varsity. He’s become a two-way starter, and was named to the Metro Suburban Blue All-Conference team. He credited senior left tackle Connor Schmidt for mentoring him throughout the season.
“(TJ) has come in and had a great season for us,” Bob McMillen said. “He wasn’t our first choice at center, but we tried it out in the summer and it worked out. He’s had a really good season at that position.”
With quarterback Tommy Rittenhouse still sidelined with an injury, the Spartans’ offensive line McMillen, Schmidt, left guard Kevin O’Connell, right tackle Michael Bumpus and right guard Joey Mayor —helped stabilize the offense following injuries to Rittenhouse and guard Ryan Holleman. Coach McMillen said Rittenhouse should be available if St. Francis was to make the state championship game.
“Our offense is explosive but doesn’t average 47 points without the offensive line,” Bob McMillen said. “We have a tough test coming against Coal City. They are a very physical team and have a great running (attack). They have a whole bunch of different formations and like to run the ball.”
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