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Alta's Jack of all trades

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Cyclone's senior running back is the Pilot's 2008 Player of the Year

If the annual debates and frenzy over the Heisman trophy have taught us anything, it's that selecting the nation's most valuable player is hardly an easy task.

With four area football teams earning postseason berths, and numerous individuals having outstanding campaigns in 2008, the task of selecting our area's most valuable player was a difficult one.

In the end, no player proved to be more valuable to their team than Alta's Jack Mills.

The senior's playmaking abilities certainly resonated on the stat sheets, as well as in the opinion of his coach.

"Its been real nice," said Cyclone head coach Kevin Hammer. "We've been really fortunate to have him in our offense. It makes your play-calling easier when you know one missed tackle and he's gone. It's really special, from a coach's standpoint to have kids like that playing on your team."

The senior's play this year warranted attention at running back, linebacker, punter, and kick returner.

Mills raced past opponents for 1428 yards and 21 TDs on the ground this fall.

He caught 100 yards worth of passes out of the backfield and he frequently showed off his passing skills in conversion situations.

He averaged 26 yards per kick return, and averaged nearly 38 yards per punt.

At linebacker, he picked up 49 tackles. It wouldn't come as a surprise if Mills painted the yard lines before each game.

"Jack is a really good all-around athlete," said Hammer. "I had a feeling he would probably have a good year offensively. What surprised me was how well he came around at the linebacker position. We put him there at the end of his junior year, and he struggled a little early on. We didn't know what we'd get this year, and he turned to be one of the better linebackers in the district. He covered a lot of ground, he was great against the pass, and he wasn't afraid to put his nose in there and make a hit."

What makes Mills 2008 season even more impressive is the fact that this was his first season seeing the majority of the carries having watched other talented Cyclone backs do the leg work over the past three years.

"He was one of those kids that had to wait his time," said Hammer. "He had two really good backs in front of him. He would have been starting for a few years at a lot of schools in the area. He had to wait till his senior year to really get carries. He waited patiently, and when he got the chance, he made the most of it."

As impressive as Mills' numbers are, what stood out more is the manner and timing of his production in 2008.

Whenever Alta hit a suffered a setback, the senior running back wouldn't let that slide go too far before doing his part to right the ship.

"I really thought, towards the end of the year, he really stepped it up and had some of his best games," said Hammer. "He kept working hard and improving, and so did our team."

Mills certainly showed the patience needed as he waited in the wings for his chance to carry the ball for Alta, but it wasn't until he transitioned that patience onto the field, after the loss to LeMars Gehlen, that he had a truly great year.

Following that loss, Mills truly hit his stride, scoring 20 of his 21 touchdowns over the final nine games.

After being held to 69 yards in the season finale against Akron-Westfield, Mills exploded for 164 and four scores against a highly-regarded Bishop Garrigan team.

The next round, against that same A-W team, Mills went off for 156 and three scores.

"Coming into this year,I knew he was capable of a big season like this," said Hammer. "Not being a starter, you don't know how the kids are going to react. Jack was a little frustrated at the beginning of the year. He wasn't getting the yards he thought he might. We told him to just relax and be patient. Take the three yard runs and the big things would come, and they did. From game three on, he busted out and had a special year."

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