LAURINBURG — Family has always been important to Brandon McMillian.
When the Scotland High linebacker makes a sack or blocks a punt, he points up to the sky to honor his late father.
Lesley “Lynn” McMillian died after a car accident in February 2010, during Brandon’s freshman year in high school. His grandfather passed away less than two years later.
“That’s the reason why I play hard. If you ever look at me, I point up to him whenever I make a good play. When it was something special I would point up to him or at my mom in the stands,” McMillian said.
“You’ve always got to remember where you came from.”
The 6-foot, 195-pound McMillian was one of the most talked about linebackers in the state last season after his impact on defense and special teams. He led the Scotland linebackers with two interceptions, both of which he ran back for touchdowns. He also returned kicks and blocked punts for the Scots.
McMillian is a native of Scotland County, but it was a long path that led to his place among the Fighting Scots. A rising senior, last season was McMillan’s first at Scotland after transferring from Purnell Swett High School last summer.
When he was barely a teenager, McMillian moved to Robeson County, just outside of Pembroke, when his father found a new job. He played one game as quarterback during his freshman year at Purnell Swett, but couldn’t find his rhythm. When his team couldn’t find a place for him, McMillan left the program.
McMillian and his mother, Tammy McMillian, moved around some more, spending time in the mountains of North Carolina before eventually settling in Laurel Hill last summer.
McMillian joined Scotland’s football program for summer workouts, and this time found a place where he could thrive. There was an immediate feeling of familiarity at Scotland for McMillian — and for good reason. As a kid, McMillian played 10-and-under football with Scotland County Parks and Recreation as a quarterback and running back.
His coach, Duke Williams, now Laurinburg’s Police Chief, said he could tell right away that McMillian had the potential to be an impact player.
“It’s not about your physical size, but the size of your heart and will to overcome adversity on the field,” Williams said. “I knew he would be special once his size caught up to his heart.”
As a running back, McMillian would carry four or five defenders down the field before coming back into the huddle and asking for another play, Williams said.
“He understands why he plays the game. He makes sure to make dad proud. He’s a tremendous kid. Football is a sport the kids play and they love it, but as a person you couldn’t have a child better than Brandon.”
McMillan credits his genes for his speed. His father, who played baseball at Boston College after transferring from Fayetteville State, was nicknamed “Jackrabbit” for the same trait.
Upon transferring to Scotland, McMillan was offered the position of quarterback. Remembering his former experience, he chose another path.
“I said no cause I wanted to hit the quarterback … so that’s why I tried defense, and then I just fell in love with it,” he said.
That choice gives him an advantage on the field, as he can anticipate the movements of an offense. But Scotland coaches say his most-improved trait is his attitude.
“He became coachable and started doing things my way,” said outside linebackers coach Matt Stack, who worked with McMillan every day last season. ” I told him, ‘you’re going to be good because you are a good athlete, but if you want to be great you’ve got to do the right technique,” Stack said.
The effort payed off when McMillian scored the only Scotland touchdown in the state championship game, on a 79-yard fumble recovery in the first quarter. That put Scotland ahead 7-0, but the team did not score again and lost to Dudley, which racked up 24 points.
But McMillian is determined to get another shot at the ring, and he has goals even higher than that.
He has attended two camps this summer in Charlotte and will be flying for the first time in his life in July for another camp in Ohio. Each camp is an invitational, where they gradually narrow down the All-Americans. To get to Ohio, McMillian had to be one of the top two linebackers at the Charlotte camp. If he makes it out of the July 17 camp, he gets to go to San Antonio, Texas, for the US Army All-American Bowl.
Throughout his time at the camps, McMillian has earned a nickname — Scotland.
“Now we’re starting to rise and people are knowing us and everything so that’s exciting. Everybody knows who you are now,” McMillian said.
Well, most people. One player thought he flew from the country of Scotland for a camp, McMillian added, laughing. At one of the Charlotte camps, a former Green Bay Packer made an appearance and showed off a Super Bowl ring.
“It was pretty cool to hold that Super Bowl ring. Another goal for me to try to reach for. When I saw it, I said I want one of my own. I don’t care who I play for,” McMillian said.
He is still working on getting recruited by college programs, something that is likely made harder since he has only played one full season in high school. In the meantime, McMillian said he is working hard to raise his GPA. This past semester he made the A/B Honor Roll.
He may not have a particular school in mind, but there is one requirement he’s looking for.
“I want to go anywhere that makes me feel like family like Scotland has.”