The answer Liberty County had been waiting for and Buckeye Nation had been hoping for finally came Monday morning.
Liberty County High School’s Raekwon McMillan, an Under Armour All-American and this year’s Butkus Award winner as the nation’s top high-school linebacker, verbally committed to play football for the Ohio State Buckeyes during a ceremony at the LCHS media center.
The event was broadcast live on the NBC Sports Network and the Internet, and was attended by many media members, football players, coaches and McMillan’s family and supporters.
McMillan had offers from more than 20 Division I Football Bowl Subdivision colleges. On the table in front of him were hats representing his top choices — Georgia, Clemson, Auburn, Alabama and Ohio State. He toyed with the media, picking up the Alabama hat and looking at it before placing it down, swooping up the Ohio State hat and saying “I’m going to roll with Ohio State” as he placed it on his head.
Friends and family erupted in applause. His parents, Rafael and Monica Washington, shared high-fives.
McMillan said when he visited OSU in Columbus, it felt like his home away from home. He said early playing time was an important factor, but added his decision wasn’t based on whether the school he picked would give him a better chance for an NFL career.
“Alabama has had some second-stringers go in the second and third round (of the NFL draft), so I really didn’t base my decision on the fourth year of my college … I based my decision on how I am going to feel when there is nobody there sitting with me, sitting in the dorm all by myself … all I have to do is call my head coach or call my position coach,” McMillan said, adding he just felt a closer relationship with the Ohio State staff.
During the broadcast, he apologized to Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer for keeping him in the dark the past four years.
“I know your heart was probably pounding like mine, coach, and I am sorry I left you hanging, but I am giving the next four years of my life to you, so I hope I have it in good hands,” McMillan said during the broadcast.
McMillan acknowledged he was recruited by some of the best coaches in the nation and thanked each one of them. He added that Meyer’s in-home visit Sunday afternoon didn’t cement the decision to go with the Buckeyes, and he didn’t make the final decision until he walked into the library Monday morning and thought about the past few years.
However, he did say Meyer’s visit confirmed the close tie he had developed with him. “Last night, he came in and sat down and talked to my parents and he talked to my family … there was just a family vibe while he was there,” McMillan said. “Even though I will be nine hours away from my home, I have a safe place going to Ohio State.”
McMillan said he felt blessed and humbled by the number of offers he received and the attention each school gave to him and his family.
“I don’t have anything bad to say about all the other colleges because they are all great and really at the last minute I could have chosen either one of them but I want to say thank you to all of them … but there was just something special about Ohio State University,” McMillan said. “Every time I visited the school, every time I talked to the coach on the phone … there was just a special bond about Ohio State.”
He plans to major in finance at Ohio State, which has gone 24-1 in two seasons under Meyer. As of Tuesday, Ohio State had the third-highest rated class of 2014 recruits, according to rivals.com. McMillan is the highest-rated member of OSU’s class.
McMillan thanked Panther coach Kirk Warner for advice through the years, adding he was sure he would keep in touch and continue to seek out his advice.
Warner said he was proud of McMillan’s accomplishments and talked to him about the changes he could expect.
“He’s become a young man right now,” Warner said. “He came in to our program as a little pudgy boy, but he is definitely a D-I college-football player now. But there will be some adjustments … he is going to have to study more, his social life will be different since he is going to a different area of the country … and of course the pace of the game … it is not a cliché when people say the pace of the game is different when you go from high school to college and then again from college to the pros and he is going to have to adjust to that … but I think he is going to handle it very well.”
McMillan said he was glad to have this part of his life behind him and told media members it was time for him to get back to work.
“It’s not really done,” he said of his football year. “I have the Under-Armour game coming up, and I can’t go in there half-stepping it and have somebody make me look bad. I have to step it up right now and get ready for the Under-Armour game that is my next mission now.”
McMillan will play in the UA game Jan. 2 in St. Petersburg, Fla., head back to Hinesville afterward and report to Ohio State by Jan. 8.
High-school career stats
349 solo tackles, 107 assists including 75 tackles for loss
Hurried the quarterback 24 times, had 16.5 sacks for minus-94 yards
Had three interceptions for 31 yards, deflected five passes, recovered two fumbles for 63 yards and caused 10 fumbles
1,009 yards and 17 touchdowns on 141 carries
81 yards and two touchdowns on four receptions
1,121 all-purpose yards
Scored 144 points