By Alvin Richardson
On April 22nd Morgan County lost one of their native sons. The passing of Frederick Lee Mills was mourned by all who knew him and beautifully memorialized in his obituary in the April 30th edition of the Morgan County Citizen. He was also remembered in a separate article in which his life-long friend Reverend Robert Terrell noted that not only was Mills a true friend but also a force on the Morgan County High School football teams for which he played.
Fred’s family and friends lost him far too soon and their heartaches are still raw with the emotion of his sudden death but his memory lives on.
It lives on in so many ways but today we will reminisce about his athletic accomplishments on the football field as just one more way to remember and cherish his life.
I did not know Fred personally but did know first-hand about how good a football player he was. While Fred was playing for guys like Wayne Bradshaw and Steve Cisson at Morgan County in the 1982 through 1985 football seasons I was an assistant coach at Lincoln County High School. We played Morgan County in both the 1982 and 1983 seasons as region opponents. In fact we played Morgan County four times in those two years because we met in both the regular season and region playoffs. Both teams in those two seasons were very good and the games were classic matchups of hard-nosed football that were enjoyed by all who witnessed the contests.
Fred Mills was right in the middle of all those games as a hard-hitting safety on defense and as a running back who could run over linebackers or outrun defensive backs. He was a marvel to watch and those who saw him play will tell you that he was likely one of the best players to ever wear the red and black colors of Morgan County High School.
As a freshman in 1982 Fred became a starting safety. That was a significant accomplishment for a ninth grader because Morgan County would go 10-2 that year, put together an eight game winning streak, play for the region title and wind up ranked sixth in the final Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll. Fred’s highlights were pretty impressive for a young player.
On September 3, 1982 in the season’s second game against Monroe Area, Mills stamped himself as a player to watch out for when he intercepted a pass and darted 55 yards for a touchdown and also led the Bulldog defense with seven tackles.
Three weeks later on September 24, Mills played a major role in a key region win over Harlem. The game went into overtime (which was two five minute periods at the time) and Mills came up with an interception and returned it to the Harlem 16 yard line leading to the go-ahead touchdown in a 21-7 win.
Mills also began to get some opportunities to play running back as a freshman in 1982. The young phenom continued to turn heads and prompted head coach Wayne Bradshaw to say “I was especially impressed with the running of Fred Mills” after a 42-0 win over Hancock Central. Later in the season against Oglethorpe County on November 5, 1982 Mills scored his first rushing touchdown.
As a sophomore in 1983 Mills became a two-way starter. Morgan County had another fine season going 8-3 and played Lincoln County in the region playoffs losing 20-0 to the sixth ranked Red Devils. Mills was once more a standout on both sides of the ball and highlighted his season with a two touchdown game versus Aquinas.
1984 turned out to be a rebuilding year for Morgan but Mills continued to impress. For the second straight season he was a two-way starter and his exploits on the offensive side of the ball began to blossom. On August 31, 1984 he scored three times in the season opener versus East Hall and continued all season to be a force in Morgan County’s vaunted Wing-T offense. He was named Player of the Game on September 28, 1984 as Morgan defeated rival Putnam County 26-0 and against Oglethorpe County he continued to be a force on defense when he picked off a pass and returned it to the 10 yard line setting up a touchdown.
In his senior season of 1985 Mills became a legend. He opened the season with 142 yards on 15 carries and three touchdowns against East Hall and that was just the beginning.
He scored touchdowns in nearly every game and on September 27, 1985 against arch-rival Putnam County he had an 87 yard kickoff return for a touchdown to go along with 112 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown in a 36-12 win.
Morgan would go on to make the region playoffs before falling to Washington-Wilkes in the region championship game. Wilkes would go on to make the state finals before losing to West Rome 28-10.
During his career Fred Mills and his Morgan County teammates compiled a record of 27-17-1, played for the region title twice and made the region playoffs three of his four years.
At the Touchdown Club banquet following his senior season Mills was voted as Morgan County’s Most Valuable Player (Golden Helmet Award), named a permanent captain (along with Ty Vance and Matt Wilson), won the Best Back Award and also received the Bulldog Award (for most helmet decals).
Perhaps the best way to sum up the legacy of Fred Mills as a football player at MCHS came from his coach Steve Cisson. Cisson was the defensive coordinator at Morgan County for two decades and he had this to say about Mills. “Not only was Fred a tough football player but he was coachable, likeable and just a really good all-around kid.”
High praise from someone who would know.
Frederick Lee Mills was a shining star at Morgan County High School and his name will be remembered by all of those who knew and loved him.
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