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April 9, 2011

Freshman Millard takes on backup QB role

MORGANTOWN — The transition from high school to college for someone who is simply a student is a difficult one, but West Virginia University freshman quarterback Paul Millard’s transition has been a torturous test of his character.

To begin with, by all rights he should still be in high school but instead took an early graduation so that he could get right into football.

To complicate matters, he wasn’t enrolling at the local high school, but instead he was leaving his native Texas to travel to West Virginia, a child caught up in trying to adjust to school, to football, to his surroundings, to making new friends.

And then the atomic bomb went off as he received a call and learned that his father, Robert, the man who has shaped his life, had died suddenly.

It was a crushing, unexpected turn of events that sent him home for a week in January, looking at life in a totally different light than he had previously.

“I was completely distraught for a week,” he admitted. “It has not been an easy transition, but I know my Dad is in in a better place and looking down.”

He needed the support of his teammates and his coaches and he turned toward the team chaplain to help him through.

“He was very supportive,” he said.

His father had actually started him off as a baseball player, even though he had been a football player at a small college before becoming a petroleum engineer at Penn State, which was what brought him to Texas.

When Millard began playing football, it was as a linebacker, not a quarterback.

“I was bigger than a lot of the kids,” the 6-1, 218-pounder said. “I hit hard.”

His father was his coach through the pee wee years, right up until he began playing school ball and became the nation’s most prolific quarterback at Flower Mound High outside Houston.

It’s hard to imagine what he accomplished, completing 331 passes in 400 attempts for 4,491 yards and 47 touchdowns. He passed for 300 yards 10 times, 400 yards seven times and, yes, 500 yards once.

Those sound like the kind of numbers Dana Holgorsen promises to put up in his offense.

Millard had given a commitment to Stephen F. Austin, whose offensive coordinator was Shannon Dawson. But he says he wasn’t really going there, that he expected to hear from some big time schools.

However, when Holgorsen was hired, he grabbed his old friend and player, Dawson, and brought him to West Virginia. That set it up for Millard to follow and he was ready, having set up for early graduation because he knew the situation here.

Geno Smith was back as the incumbent quarterback but there was no backup.

“Normally a freshman comes in and he’s on the scout team and doesn’t get a lot of reps,” Millard said. “But I know I’d get reps and have a chance to make an impression.”

In truth, he probably knew the offense better than Smith, having played in a similar offense in high school.

“I trusted my abilities,” he said, “I came here wanting to put as much pressure on Geno as possible. I think Geno appreciates it.”

That might sound cocky, but Millard says that’s not the case.

“I’m confident in my abilities,” he said.

So, what are his abilities? What does Paul Millard bring to the table.

He laughed a little at that.

“Well, I’m not the fastest you’ve ever seen. I’m not a Pat White. I’m a pocket quarterback and I read defenses well. I’m told I’m a good leader. As a freshman, though, it’s hard to take that role.”

Millard has caught Holgorsen’s eye.

“Paul is a smart kid and he played in an offense like this, so he understands a lot of the concepts,’’ Holgorsen said.

It isn’t that you expect Millard to beat Smith out, though.

“You can tell Geno’s played more. He’s got experience. His body language is great and he bounces around and he’s a leader,’’ Holgorsen said. “His head’s cloudy, too, but as practice goes on they’ll get it a little bit more. You can tell from the beginning of practice to the end of practice that they work at a little better rate.’’

No matter what happens, it seems that Millard is the quarterback of the future and that gives him something to really work toward, which is just what he needs.

“My head has been spinning from it all,” he said. “It’s helped being on the field, though. It gave me a chance to vent.”

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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