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It's hurt for a while now.
Injured during a game against Marquette Catholic almost a month and a half ago, Blake Mills' ankle has yet to fully heal, but that hasn't stopped the Vandalia senior from taking the field every game this season.
Playing exclusively on the defensive side of the ball since his injury, save for a couple of snaps at center last Friday, Mills has established himself as the Vandals' top tackler, with 54 solos and six for a loss on the season.
“He’s a warrior,” said coach John Stout. “He just can’t shake it, but he’s not going to let something like that keep him out down the stretch of his senior year.”
Mills said he isn’t 100-percent sure how the injury occurred at Marquette, but that the ankle pain has been a recurring injury throughout his career.
He said he always seems to roll his ankle during games, but it has been ingrained in him not to let a small injury stop him from playing.
“My dad has always taught me to be like that, ‘Don’t let anything stop you. Just play through,”’ Mills said. “I’m not always going to get to play football, so I should make the most of it.”
His career, however, may continue beyond high school.
He said universities from several states have contacted him about playing college football, and he is hopeful to play for a Division II school while studying criminology.
As a linebacker, he brings a skill set that should be desirable to many teams, and even though Mills is one of the fastest players on the team, it was his ability to instinctively know where the ball is headed that made Stout use him as a linebacker.
“We saw early on that he could find the football,” Stout said. “That’s hard to teach, unless you’re a pro or college team that can rep it two or three hours.
“In high school, you have to find those guys who can find the ball. And Blake, on Friday nights, takes his intensity up to another level.”
Mills said his height – he is 6-foot-4 – allows him to see over the offensive lineman and into the backfield, and his experience allows him to have a good read on the ball.
And that’s a big reason why he disrupts the offense – and kickers – so often.
With two blocked punts last season and two blocked point-after attempts this season, Mills’ value has been proven as more than a top tackler, which he also was last season, when his marks of 51 solos and nine for loss tied for the team lead.
But, he said, there “definitely” is nothing better than sacking the quarterback, and when he sees what he believes is a gap he can get through, all he is doing is thinking about getting through it as fast as he can.
And as long as his ankle holds up, he is hopeful his final high school sack is still in the future.