KINGSVILLE — There were times when he felt like checking it in, giving up, and leaving football behind forever. But through early academic troubles to being mired at the bottom of the Javelina depth chart, Angel Millan managed to find the right answers to all his questions.
And now, it’s all gravy.
The former Jag star is punting for Texas A&M-Kingsville this season, having assumed the chores two weeks ago for the Javs, ranked fourth in the nation and gunning for their eighth national championship. He had recorded boots of 52 and 58 yards with an average near 40 per kick heading into last weekend’s regular season finale at home against Southeastern Oklahoma.
Millan, who graduated from Econ in 2008, left the A&M team as a freshman to concentrate on academics, and after he rejoined the squad, Coach Bo Atterberry wanted to see if the 6-foot, 190-pounder had what it took to earn his way back.
“He made me work for it, no doubt about that, they didn’t even give me the time of day at first, unless it was to tell me I was doing something wrong,” he recalled. “But they wanted to test me, to see whether I was worth the risk. I had to be consistent, be at all the workouts, do good in class, all that. And finally, I am getting my chance.”
Millan says that his competition with freshman Matt Stoll of College Station has been fierce from day one. Stole averaged just over 36 yards per kick until the Edinburg sophomore replaced him.
“We almost had a fight one day in the locker room, it was really intense,” Millan said, chuckling. “But it’s really just good competition, and I wanted to show I could beat him.”
This season, the former All-City performer, a QB, receiver, and punter in high school, was always being asked by his family, after each game: “Did you play, did you play?”
And he had to answer “no.”
“They kept on asking until finally, a couple of weeks ago, I could say, ‘Yeah, I did,’” Millan related. “But my first punt, I ain’t gonna lie…I shanked it! Bad! The next time, though, I hit it good, 50-some yards, and that was way better.”
Right now, as the Javs prepare for the playoffs, Millan can bask in the glow of a rare feeling. He never got a shot at the postseason with the Jags.
“Hey, now we have a shot at a national championship, it’s crazy,” he admitted. “And the crowds we get here, I think we have some of the biggest crowds in Division II. This is really fun, because back in high school we couldn’t even fill our side of the bleachers, you know what I mean?”
Another difference between high school and college has to do with the quality of athlete.
“These guys are all bigger and faster than they were in high school,” Millan said. “It’s definitely a new ball game in that regard. But I have been able to show these guys I can throw as well as punt. They see me throw at halftime and they’ll be like, ‘Damn boy…you got an arm!’”
Along those lines, the soph is hoping that one day Atterberry and special teams coach Cody Smith will call for one of three fake punts in the playbook. He knows that at that point, he will be able to turn back the clock a little and take off running. Or maybe gun one for a first down.
“Working with a special teams coach has helped me be more consistent, Coach Smith punted here real recently and he knows his stuff,” Millan stressed. “And all the things he knows, he just comes out and hands them to us, we couldn’t ask for more.”
During his trying exile period, Millan had a hard time getting motivated for anything. School was a burden and football seemed like a memory. But he kept hearing from people in the program that he needed to get his act together and come back for a second chance.
“They would tell me not to worry, that I could come back,” he recalled. “And the thing was, I knew I was better than the guy they had punting. I just had to hang in there and make it back out.
“Now, I have to keep getting better because I know that though I may be starting this week, based on what’s happened in the past…let’s just say I’m not taking anything for granted!”
NOTES: Former Bobcat Manny Menchaca is a redshirt this season for the Hoggies, after joining the program this fall. Other Valley kids on the roster include kicker Christian Brom of McAllen; receiver Joseph Vela of Rio Hondo; lineman Rey Quintanilla of San Benito; and receiver Martin Carrion of Brownsville Rivera.