The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

September 12, 2011

Millard makes mark in college debut

MORGANTOWN — That Paul Millard’s first play at quarterback for West Virginia was a called running play should have come as no surprise.

The game was long out of hand by then and Millard had to shake off those first-game, first-play jitters that come with taking a baby step into college football.

What was a surprise, you see, was that Millard was the man who ran the ball.

“I just turned it on,” he said, trying to keep a straight face.

“Turned it on?” said a wise-guy sports writer who saw first-hand right as Millard gained one yard on the play why he’ll be making his mark with his arm and not his legs.

“Yeah, turned on the jets,” the true freshman said, now wearing a wide grin.

Now let us understand this: Dana Holgorsen did not intend for young Paul Millard to carry on his first play. He was supposed to hand it off to a running back.

“The snap came back a little low, so instead of just trying to get the ball to the back I thought it was too late, so I turned it on,” he said.

As debuts go, this was one that got off to a rocky start ... but it would get better.

Much better.

In truth, after that first play, Millard showed himself to be an accomplished quarterback, connecting on five of six passes, including one of 30 yards to Bradley Starks for a touchdown. It was one of five TD passes WVU threw on the day to five different receivers in a 55-12 victory over FCS opponent Norfolk State.

In many cases, the backup quarterback is always a hero to the fans and as soon as he comes forth and has a good game a quarterback controversy is created. It happened on Saturday 80 miles north of Milan Puskar Stadium when Pitt coach Todd Graham inserted his freshman Trey Anderson for struggling veteran Tino Sunseri, Anderson hitting 5 of 7 passes for 33 yards.

That actually forced Graham to pledge his loyalty to Sunseri to keep such a controversy from happening.

“I have 100 percent belief in Tino. He has a difficult job. Tino is our No. 1 quarterback. I believe in him and what he’s doing. He’s just got to get better,” Graham said. “Tino’s learning a new system and I think that’s what you are seeing. He’s doing some great things. He did some great things last week and he did some great things today.”

Dana Holgorsen needed to do no such thing, his starter Geno Smith being firmly entrenched in the job and leading the Mountaineers to a pair of victories as they begin to prepare this week for one of the season’s key games, the first road game of the year at Maryland.

Millard has no visions of replacing Smith at the present moment but knows he will be given the opportunity to develop slowly until his turn comes along.

Meanwhile, he has that debut to fall back upon in his memory bank.

“Hopefully my dad was watching,” he said. “He’d be proud.”

The story of what happened this spring when Millard came to WVU early to begin learning the system has been spread near and far, his father dying shortly after he arrived, a difficult turn of events at a difficult moment in his life as he adjusted to life away from home, to college and to college football.

“I know the family well and how close they are,” receiver coach Shannon Dawson said a month or so ago as he marveled at the way Millard has handled the changes and challenges life has thrown at him. “No one knows how to handle those situations. I’ve had problems handling death with other people my whole life.”

The coaches told Millard to take his time and stay at home as long as was necessary.

“Testament to the kid, the day after the funeral he called and said, ‘Coach, I’m ready to come back.’ I told him to take as long as he wanted but he said, ‘My goal is to play there and contribute to the team.’”

It was a stunningly mature approach.

Now he had made his debut and put points on the board and was secure in believing his father had somehow been a presence in the stadium.

Millard is that kind of kid. He showed up for interviews wearing a Flower Mound, Texas, T-shirt, honoring the school that prepared him for WVU.

“Back in high school my coaches meant the world to me. They pretty much taught me to play quarterback from Square 1 when I got in high school. My coach [Cody Vanderford] in high school will appreciate this. I still talk to him and he still pushes me. I figured I’d give him a shoutout,” he explained.

Email Bob Hertzel at Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.

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