McMillian overcomes lack of size, becomes leader in secondary

With five interceptions, senior corner Zachary McMillian tied for the Conference USA lead.  |  Courtesy of UH Athletics

With five interceptions, senior corner Zachary McMillian tied for the Conference USA lead. | Courtesy of UH Athletics

Senior cornerback Zachary McMillian has never been the most physically gifted player on the field. To compensate, he knew he had to play smarter and outwork his competition.

While in high school, he stood at 5-foot-10 and weighed about 150 pounds, according to The former Dulles High School standout was told he was too small by recruiters.

Early on, Zachary wasn’t pursued like a five-star recruit, as he had zero offers from any Division I schools after his sophomore year.

The football camps

To get his name out, he participated in a plethora of camps, including Nike, Under Armour, National Underclassman and The Old Coach, prior to his junior year.

As one of the most undersized corners at the camp, he knew he had to perform well enough to get noticed, as the other defensive backs were more physically appealing to the coaches and scouts.



“I had a mean chip on my shoulder going into all of them,” Zachary said. “I felt I had the ability to play (college football), but none of the coaches really wanted to mess with me based off how small I was.”

To draw attention, he made sure to line up with all the receivers that were highly praised.

“Going into the camps, the coaches already know who they’re recruiting and sending letters to, and I was not that guy,” he said. “I would go and get to the camp early and see who the coaches were talking to, and I would make sure I was in front of that receiver when we did one-on-one drills.”

He said he would never forget those camps.

“When I knew I was going and shutting down receivers who had offers from Oklahoma State, who had offers from Kansas State, I knew I can actually do this and compete at a high level,” he said.

Like father, like son

After his stellar performances at the camps, it was only a matter of time until the letters began to pile up from programs such as UTEP, Rice, New Mexico, Air Force and UH.

Zachary, a Missouri City native, narrowed it down to UH and Rice because he wanted to play in front of his friends and family. He ultimately chose UH because he wanted to continue to make plays and earn recognition on the same field as his father, Audray McMillian.

Audray played cornerback for the Cougars from 1980-1984 and was a third-round draft pick by the New England Patriots in 1985. His nine-year career in the NFL included stints with the Houston Oilers and the Minnesota Vikings. In the 1992 season, he earned himself a spot on the Pro Bowl roster when he tied for a league-leading eight interceptions.

Zachary attended a number of his father’s NFL games as a kid and has built a strong relationship when it comes to the gridiron.

However, his father didn’t want him to pursue a career path in football.

Instead, Zachary said his father wanted him to play golf because of the physical grind his body took for more than 20 years.

“He said he hurts everyday, and it wears and tears on his body. He told me, ‘You don’t want to do something like that, and I’d rather have you do something that involves your mind where you don’t have to hurt.’ There are people that make a lot of money that don’t have to sweat, ache or hurt,” Zachary jokingly said.

Mind made up

But when Zachary decided he was going keep football in his life, his dad stood by his side.

When he enrolled at UH in 2010, his father did more than just watch his son’s practices. Sometimes, the former NFL player found himself actively helping the Cougars’ secondary learn man-to-man, zone coverage and backpedaling tips and techniques to help improve their play at the position.

“Every time we see him sometimes after practice, he’ll be like, ‘I watched y’all and this is what y’all messed up on; this is what y’all did right.’ But most of it is the stuff that we did wrong,” sophomore safety Trevon Stewart said. “It’s definitely a good thing, though, because it’ll all help out in the end. That’s why Zach is the player he is.”

After last year’s season-ending injury to former UH cornerback D.J. Hayden, who played the No.1 corner spot, Zachary was forced to step over from his No.2 corner spot and become the secondary’s top performer.

He recorded an interception in the three remaining games to bring his total to five, which tied a Conference USA lead.

Zachary said his goals are team-centered this season.

“I want to be a person that my team can depend on times when you need that somebody to make a big play. I want to make that kind of play for my team.”

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