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Then Mills pauses and says, "I chose Penn State for academic reasons. Football wasn't everything to me. Just one part. An important part, but only one part." Mills has a 3.0 academic average and a perfect 4.0 in his major, business logistics. But he downplays his accomplishments in the classroom: "I find it easy to do well when I'm not devoting five or six hours a day to football."
Mills seemed to be gliding effortlessly toward a rich career in the NFL, until one snowy day in December 1985 when Penn State was preparing for the Orange Bowl. The field was slick, says Mills, who was a redshirt freshman that year, "but maybe I didn't stretch right, either." While making practice kicks, he pulled a muscle in his right groin. At the time, it seemed a minor injury.
In the spring of 1986, the muscle became more and more painful with every practice. And even though Mills drilled field goals of 40 and 29 yards in the Nittany Lions' spring intrasquad game, he knew his valuable leg was in big trouble. Despite treatment over the summer, no progress was made, and in the fall Mills glumly told the Penn State coaches, "This isn't getting better." He opted to take the year off and return, strong and healthy, in the spring of 1987.
In the spring game of that year he made good on his only field goal attempt, a 28-yarder. Congratulations flowed. But Mills knew the truth: "There was no snap in my leg and no punch on the ball."
Mills, once a 60-yard threat, found his limit at 46 yards and dwindling. The end came before the Lions' 1987 opener, against Bowling Green, when Mills kicked a ball during pre-game practice and "felt like my leg came off." While going about on crutches for more than two weeks, Mills asked himself, "Is football my life, or should I get an education?" The answer came in the dark of night when he admitted to himself, This is not in the cards.
Mills subsequently told Paterno, "I'm not going to play football. If it gets better, I'll come back out." Paterno urged him to seek more medical advice and treatment, but Mills had had enough. He said, "I'd like to give my scholarship to another player. I don't feel right keeping it." Said Paterno, "No. Keep it and finish your education."
So that's what Mills is doing. He helps coach the Lions' kickers, but otherwise he's just another Penn State undergrad, working diligently toward his degree. He says, "I wish things could have happened differently, but I'm a better person for all this. And I have so much to look forward to." But then he says softly and sadly, "All I ever wanted to do was kick just one field goal in Beaver Stadium."
Rose always says "Yes, sir." Except when he says "No, sir." He never uses three words when two will do. Rose is the epitome of the blue-collar player, all but anonymous, yet, in so many unseen and unstoried ways, the heart and soul of his team. Every day Rose shows up on time, rolls up his sleeves and puts in an honest day's work. "Attitude is the most important thing," he says. "Without that, it doesn't make a hill of beans how good an athlete you are."
Rose, a 6'4", 284-pound senior offensive lineman, has good attitude in abundance. Consider, for example, that he was probably the best high school defensive lineman in the Class of '85. Rose made 172 tackles and caused 10 fumbles his senior year at Emma Sansom High in Gadsden, Ala., as a noseguard, defensive end, whatever. As long as it was defense. "But when I got here, Coach [Ray] Perkins asked me right away how I felt about playing in the offensive line," Rose says. "I said, 'That's fine.' Look, I was an 18-year-old freshman, and I wasn't about to start off my college career by not agreeing with the head coach."