Paul Millard says 2011 was almost like a blur to him.
His year began in earnest last January when he decided to graduate from high school six months early in order to enroll for the spring semester at West Virginia University.
The Mountaineers were down two quarterbacks when Barry Brunetti and Jeremy Johnson opted to transfer after the 2010 season, and that left the coaching staff with only Geno Smith
and Brian Athey as their two scholarship quarterbacks (Athey, also an early enrollee, later opted to transfer to Illinois State) heading into the spring practice – not nearly enough arms to get through a spring.
Shannon Dawson, now West Virginia’s offensive coordinator, was recruiting Millard when he was at Stephen F. Austin, and then when he took the WVU job, Dawson encouraged Millard to come to Morgantown as an invited walk-on to get a head start on his college career.
Millard saw it as an opportunity to show the coaches what he could do and possibly earn a scholarship at a BCS-level school in the process, which he was successful in doing after spring drills.
“I think it was beneficial getting that whole extra spring that other guys don’t, especially playing the quarterback position,” Millard said earlier this spring. “When I do start playing - hopefully in the near future - I think that will be a tremendous help for me.”
Millard threw for more than 4,400 yards and 47 touchdowns at Flower Mound (Texas) High as a senior in 2010, including a season-high 528 yards and four touchdowns in one game. He passed for more than 400 yards seven times, threw for at least 300 yards in 10 out of the 11 games he played, and accounted for more than 8,000 career passing yards as one of the state’s most prolific quarterbacks.
But with most of the schools in the area already done recruiting quarterbacks, Millard only had a handful of offers to consider, and West Virginia, with new coach Dana Hologorsen in the fold, was too good of an opportunity for him to pass up.
So he decided to graduate early from high school and give WVU a try, missing out on such things as his prom and other high school events.
“It is quite a transition jumping into college real fast. It’s kind of crazy,” he admitted. “You’re in high school one day and then the next week you’re in college. It’s pretty wild.”
Last year, Millard appeared in four games for the Mountaineers, connecting on a 30-yard touchdown pass to Brad Starks against Norfolk State and hooking up with Stedman Bailey
for a 45-yard pass play against Bowling Green. For the season, he completed 7 of 15 passes for 124 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions.
Millard also managed to see some playing time against Clemson in the 2012 Discover Orange Bowl, although he did throw an interception that led to a late Tiger touchdown. For Millard, that pick was a disappointing end to a year that also saw him tragically lose his father, Robert, as well.
“It’s football. You throw interceptions. That happens. It was unfortunate at the time but since the Orange Bowl I’ve grown and matured a lot and I’ve kind of taken things in,” Millard noted. “It’s been over a year now since I’ve been here and since my dad passed away – all of that – and all of that is kind of behind me now and it’s easier to move on.”
Millard threw for 253 yards and a touchdown in last month’s spring game and continues to develop in Holgorsen’s system. The sophomore also continues to take a positive approach working behind one of the best quarterbacks in the country in senior Geno Smith
“Me and Geno have a great relationship,” Millard said. “We get along really well on the field and off the field. He’s been a good mentor to me since I’ve been at West Virginia. Being the young buck coming in last year, and now starting to grow and mature, he’s been a good guy to look up to. As I wait to play, he’s a good dude to absorb information from. Plus, he’s got a good chance to do some big things this year.”
In addition to observing Smith every day in practice this spring, Millard was the beneficiary of going up against the new defense West Virginia has adopted – a 3-4 scheme the Mountaineers will face quite frequently in the Big 12 this fall.
“Getting a lot of reps out in the spring and also seeing a completely new defense with Coach (Joe) DeForest and all of those guys bringing in a 3-4, which is what we are going to see in the Big 12, I think the more reps you take the better you are going to get,” Millard said.
Today, the sophomore admits things are moving at a much more leisurely pace for him. For one thing, he can actually find his way around town now.
“It took me a few months to get that under control. And it was snowing every day,” he joked.
“The whole last year for me was kind of a blur. Just the transition and everything that happened going on in my life was like a blur, and just now I really feel like I’ve got my feet back under me,” Millard concluded. “It’s a lot better feeling that’s for sure.”