It Took Donovan McMillion Leaving Pittsburgh to Realize Where He Was Supposed to be
Ring, ring. Ring, ring. Ring, ring.
If Donovan McMillon were to check his phone, he’d see it’s grandma calling.
She popped down to the South Side for lunch, ordered an extra steak and wants to drop it off at his place. She can do that now since he’s returned home to Pittsburgh.
He’s not one to turn down a steak, in fact, he welcomes it, but he appreciates the ability to answer the phone and say, ‘Grandma, give me an hour or two first.’
He likes being able to tell his family that he needs time to clean up first. But it’s not just that, it’s that he has his own place — even if he’s back in Pittsburgh — and can do things on his own. He was able to grow up during his time in Gainesville, Florida.
“I feel like just me being able to pay my own bills, do my laundry, clean the toilets in the house, having that other side of maturing definitely is going to help me transition well at Pitt,” McMillon said Wednesday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
He originally left Pittsburgh as a four-star recruit in the class of 2021, committing to the University of Florida as a highly sought-after safety. He had the chance to stay home then, but he needed to get away. He wanted the experience of being on his own, needed the chance to mature on his own. And he got it.
McMillon spent two years at Florida, playing well with a limited opportunity, but he grew in more ways than one. His growth on the field mirrored his growth off the field. And he hit the transfer portal following the conclusion of the Gators’ season.
He thought about maybe heading out west, and he did consider other local schools, but as the pieces fell into place, it made more and more sense to return back home.
There was a 48-hour waiting period between when McMillon submitted his name for the transfer portal and was officially entered, and when he was finally available, nothing could have prepared him for the way his phone blew up.
But there was one name that stood out. One name that was first. Pitt safeties coach Cory Sanders. It showed how Pitt cared, seeing Sanders’ name first. And when head coach Pat Narduzzi showed up at his Gainesville apartment a couple of days later, it truly showed how badly Pitt wanted him.
So, after just 10 days in the transfer portal, picking up offers from Minnesota, Virginia Tech, Miami, West Virginia, Mississippi State, Boston College, Kansas, Nebraska and Kansas State, he committed to Pitt.
“I think Pitt, whenever I went through the whole process and being able to come back to the city that I’m from, it just went together,” McMillon said. “I think Duzz and the whole staff are really making something happen right now.
“The 2021 ACC championship, that was an exciting thing to see and watch, haven’t seen an ACC championship in a while, and I’m excited to be a part of that and to go win another one.”
Now that McMillon has arrived, he feels like he’s ready to showcase his versatility as a hybrid safety. He may begin as the boundary safety, but he believes in his ability to play the post, man-to-man, in the box and even at nickel. He just wants to hit people.
He wants to be the next in a long line of Pitt defensive backs to make it to the NFL.
And in talking with Sanders and secondary coach Archie Collins, who have former WPIAL-turned-Pitt stars in Jordan Whitehead, Dane Jackson and Damar Hamlin into the NFL, it’s a dream that doesn’t feel too far away.
“I know that Sanders, one of the first things we did, we started talking about defense and going through film and everything,” McMillon said. “Just how aggressive they were, having the countless interceptions, having one of the best third-down defenses in the nation, that is something that just made me see that as I want to go do that.”
He knows Pitt plays an aggressive style of defense, and while that may scare off some defenders, that’s not the case here. If you’re aggressive, he said, opportunities — and wins — will come with it.
It’s an aggressive defense that he’s joining, and he’s joining a defensive backs room that — despite the losses of Erick Hallett and Brandon Hill to the NFL — has a lot of veteran voices. He’s seen the hard work firsthand, seen the communication between his new teammates, and he feels like his time away has prepared him to join the unit.
His growth at Florida has helped him prepare to not only lead by example but with his voice — which hasn’t always come easy. McMillon is vocal on the field, sure, but his ability to lead by example — when paired with using his voice — is reflected by his new teammates.
It comes down to doing what needs to be done, day in and day out, without fail. McMillon already sees that from the veterans in the defensive backs room. And he’s ready to add to it. Because there’s one goal.
“When it comes down to losing, I wrestled in high school my whole life and in football as well, I was always winning,” McMillon said. “I don’t want to toot my own horn, but my whole life, I worked my butt off to just be a champion at what I do — or at least try to be.”
Losing at Florida didn’t sit well with him. And the whole time, he was able to watch as Pitt inched closer and closer to the top. It was an uprising he didn’t want to miss out on.
“The day I got here, guys were already bringing me in,” McMillon said. “And I just felt like I didn’t have that same thing at first at my previous school. I just felt like guys are all gathering together, and they wanna do big things together.
“And I feel like that comes with chemistry, and friendship and bonds you have with your teammates, me being here for almost three weeks now and almost being cool with anyone, that just shows a winning mentality.”
Football is a total team game..
Great to hear! Just need to help convince other top WPIAL players to stay home too!
so if he was good enough to crack the lineup on a bad Florida team would he have still left?
By your logic all the transfer players heading into pedo state have no skills as well?
You seem to have missed the point but thanks for the reply. The headline was “Leaving Pittsburgh to realize where he was supposed to be”. The question I raised is if he was good enough to not just be a special teamer would he still this Pitt was where he is supposed to be? If a PSU decommit (nice originality on the pedo state troll, never heard it) kid comes back with the same comment I’ll let you know. Fortunately we sign 4 and 5* kids and don’t need to every year build our team on transfers (that luxury will… Read more »