MORGANTOWN - Paul Millard has the same mindset as any good backup quarterback. He's competitive enough that he aches to become the starter, yet realistic enough to know his role.So he continues to work as Geno Smith's backup at West Virginia and taking the job seriously."I don't want to put the team in a position where if Geno goes down and I come into the game, things have to change,'' Millard said. "It shouldn't make a difference, which is why I take every rep in practice as seriously as I can. If something like that happens, I have to go out there and make plays so we can win games.''Unfortunately for Millard, he's had some dry runs that haven't worked out so well. For the most part, he can joke about them because, well, that's what people like to do. But he also needs to rationalize his experiences as a true freshman so that he isn't defined by them.
"Last year when I came into games it was never a really serious role,'' Millard said. "Things may have not gone the best when I came in the game sometimes, but you live and you learn. It's part of football. I feel a lot more confident this year.''Last year? Not so much. Millard saw action in four games as Smith's backup, every time when games were out of hand. He played against Norfolk State, Bowling Green, Connecticut and Clemson, games in which the Mountaineers averaged 55.8 points and won by an average of 38.Little that he did was particularly memorable. He did complete five of his six pass attempts for 60 yards - including a 30-yard scoring strike to Brad Starks - in his debut against Norfolk State, then completed a 45-yard pass to Stedman Bailey in his next appearance. But then in his last three games Millard was 1-for-6, had an interception returned for a touchdown by UConn and threw another pick when coach Dana Holgorsen threw him in for Smith in the third quarter against Clemson.Smith was back on the next series."When I go home all my brothers make fun of me all the time,'' Millard said. "They were there at the game. I think it was my older brother who said after the game that I was Clemson's best player that night."It's fun to look back on and joke around on. But I feel like if the situation came up again it wouldn't happen the same way. But interceptions happen. They're part of the game. It's just football.''There's that rationalization thing again. Millard can't afford to allow his sometimes-embarrassing outings last fall define who he is as a quarterback. He can't afford to feel anything but complete confidence. And if his shaky performances in his brief auditions as a freshman eroded anyone's confidence in him, they aren't showing it."Paul's comfortable and he's out there to compete. He's a guy who was mature from the moment I met him, and that's very rare for a freshman,'' said Smith, who returns for his final season this fall. "He's been pushing me and pushing the second-team offense. Those guys have been getting better and so has Paul."I think he's fit to be a starter. We don't discuss anything about him being a backup. Paul understands that whatever his role is, he's going to embrace it. But at the same time, now is the time to compete. He kicks my butt many times. I'm going after him and he's going after me as well.''Millard came in a year ago as the only other quarterback on the roster and was force-fed the offense and pushed hard to be ready to play. The coaching staff had no other choice.This year, another freshman is working in spring drills. Ford Childress, though, doesn't have the same pressure to perform as did Millard. A year from now, those two should be fighting during spring drills for the starting job.
Millard, though, wants to have a leg up by that point."I've always been an extremely competitive guy,'' Millard said. "Even in high school there were times when I had to wait to play and I just hated it. But I think that's also what it takes to play at an extremely high level. It's not fun waiting your turn, but in the meantime you just have to soak up everything you can. Hopefully it will come soon enough."[Smith] has another year to be the man. I'm just trying to put myself in position that when he leaves - and this season if anything happens to him - that I'm ready to go and ready to play at a really high level.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.