McMillan Faces Familiar Foe on Path to Cementing His Ohio State Legacy

|By Mike Young|

Raekwon McMillan’s days as a Buckeye aren’t quite finished yet, but he’s already experienced a college career any aspiring college football player would dream about.

He was a five-star recruit out of Hinesville, Georgia, with every elite college program chasing him. Meyer made him a top priority shortly after taking the Ohio State job and offered McMillan in April of 2012.

Coincidentally, the schools on his final list all made the college football playoff this season.

“It’s crazy that my top three were Ohio State, Clemson and Alabama. I played Alabama my freshman year and I’m going to get a chance to play Clemson,” he said, last week. “Just seeing some of the guys across the field that I was recruited with is a great experience for me and, also, some of the players on the other teams I went on visits with.”

McMillan and Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson crossed paths on multiple occasions, considering they grew up in the same state — Watson is from Gainesville, Georgia —  and both graduated in the 2014 high school class.

Ohio State also recruited Watson and he tried to convince McMillan to join him at Clemson after committing early. In a parallel universe, perhaps they’re teammates.

Despite McMillan spurning the Tigers, the two remain friends. They briefly exchanged texts after learning they would play each other in the Fiesta Bowl.

“We talked right after the selection came out,” McMillan said. “[We said] ‘can’t wait to play each other,’ ‘good luck,’ and whatever, but we really haven’t talked much after that. Just a good luck text, that’s about it.”

Watson won’t be the first Heisman Trophy finalist a McMillan-led defense has been tasked with facing. In his freshman season, he took on Alabama’s Amari Cooper and eventual Heisman-winner running back Derrick Henry in the Sugar Bowl. He then played that year’s Heisman winner, Marcus Mariota, and Oregon in the national championship game.

This season, Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers was a Heisman finalist. The Buckeyes were prepared for the direct-snap Peppers runs partially due to the Buckeye captain.

McMillan recorded 16 tackles in that win over the Wolverines, joining the likes of Chris Spielman, Tom Cousineau, Marcus Marek and Ed Thompson as OSU linebackers who had career-high and defining performance against their biggest rivals.

“First off, we have to give credit to the defensive line in front of us because, without them, none of it would be possible,” McMillan said. “After talking to [co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell] … it was one of the best performances by our linebacking group that he’s seen — and he’s seen some great ones come through.

The junior linebacker might add another national championship to his resume. If he defies draft speculation and returns for his senior season, McMillan’s name will fill the Ohio State record books. He sits just outside the top 20 in school history for career tackles and is on pace to crack the top 10 if he returns next season.

But McMillan isn’t focused on anything but the Fiesta. After all, he vividly remembers what happened the last time Ohio State and Clemson met, in the 2014 Orange Bowl.

“Three years ago, I had just committed to Ohio State. I’m watching the game and Sammy Watkins just went crazy,” he said. “We have to make sure it doesn’t happen this year with Mike Williams and some of the other guys they have out there at receiver.”