By Rubin E. Grant
The first time John McMillan played in a varsity football game for Mountain Brook he didn’t exactly know what to do.
The Spartans’ starting linebacker had gotten injured and McMillan, an untested sophomore, replaced him against Vestavia Hills, Mountain Brook’s biggest rival.
“He didn’t know up from down,” Mountain Brook head coach Chris Yeager said. “He couldn’t get lined up right.”
Spartans defensive coordinator Rob Evans was so frustrated he was forced to call two timeouts just to tell McMillan what he was supposed to do.
“I got a nice butt-chewing,” McMillan recalled. “I still have a couple of pictures of coach Evans with his veins bulging out of his neck.
“I remember thinking, ‘Am I going to continue to do this … . Am I really this bad?’”
By the end of the 2019 season, McMillan had gotten a hang of things. In a first-round state playoff loss to Florence, he intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown.
McMillan continued to make big plays for the Spartans’ for the rest of his career. This season, the 5-foot-10, 180-pound senior outside linebacker was the ringleader of Mountain Brook’s defense that recorded a school-record seven shutouts as the Spartans reached the Class 6A semifinals before being eliminated by eventual state champion Clay- Chalkville and finished 12-2.
McMillan recorded 102 tackles (54 solo), 11 tackles for losses, forced eight turnovers, had three sacks, three quarterback pressures and three passes broken up. He was voted the 2021 OTM Defensive Player of the Year in balloting of Over the Mountain football coaches.
“That’s awesome,” McMillan said. “I was very, very happy, very appreciative when I found out.
“It was a great year. We did better than anyone thought. We always had a chip on our shoulders. I think we proved people wrong.
“I think I had a pretty good year. The guys around me and my coaches made me better. The schemes of the defense always helped me to be ready for whatever was coming.”
Yeager called McMillan “a playmaker.”
“That’s how he defined himself his whole career,” Yeager said. “He’s one of the most opportunistic players I’ve ever been around. He’s just an incredible high school football player. I wish I had him for another year.”
McMillan is unsure whether he will play college football.
“I am planning to either go to Alabama or Auburn as just a student or go to Sewanee or Rhodes, both D3 (NCAA Division III), and play,” he said. “I’ve not been offered yet by either one.”
McMillan is one of four Mountain Brook players on the All-OTM defense. The others are junior linebacker Trent Wright, senior defensive lineman Gray Doster and senior defensive back Jones Beavers.
Hoover also placed four players on the defensive squad, senior linemen Terrell Jones and Corey Warren and junior defensive backs Dale Miller and Jay Avery.
Oak Mountain had two players selected, senior linebacker Jah’ki Mullen and junior defensive back Garrett Murphy.
Rounding out the defense is Briarwood senior lineman Miller Stubblefield, Spain Park junior lineman Brian Alston, and Homewood senior linebacker Carter Engle.
Vestavia Hills’ senior Mitchell Towns was tabbed as the punter.