Playing for ‘Opa’: UW’s Jalen McMillan motivated to placed on a present for late grandfather and greatest good friend


Jalen McMillan is right here due to Herle.

Granted, Herle Gene McMillan hated his first identify.

But he liked his grandson 1,000,000 occasions extra.

“(Jalen) was the first grandbaby, and they were just inseparable,” Belinda McMillan Haener mentioned of her dad, Jalen’s grandfather, who died on Aug. 20 at age 68. “From the beginning, there were so many pictures and videos of them being just ridiculous together. They were just best pals and they understood each other better than all of us understood them individually.”

Herle Gene McMillan — who glided by Gene, and his grandkids known as “Opa” — was born in Emory, Texas, on June 28, 1954. He specialised in heavy tools operation within the United States Army, and met his spouse — Angie — whereas stationed in Karlsruhe, Germany, in 1978. They married in 1981 and welcomed their daughter, Belinda, later that 12 months.

After being discharged from the armed forces, Gene and his household settled in Fresno, Calif., the place he labored as a state humane officer for the Central California SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) for 33 years. His grandson, Jalen Miles, was born in 2001.

From the start, Opa was all the time there.

“He was around all the time,” Jalen McMillan mentioned Saturday, after recording 4 catches for 127 yards and an 84-yard landing in UW’s 52-6 win over Portland State. “He took me for my first haircut. I did a lot of my first things with him.”

That inevitably included athletics, as Jalen grew to become a standout in soccer, baseball and monitor and subject. The 6-foot-1, 186-pound broad receiver registered 260 receptions, 5,234 yards and 54 touchdowns in 50 profession video games at San Joaquin Memorial High School, from 2016 to 2019. He was ranked as a four-star recruit, the No. 5 participant in California, the No. 6 broad receiver and the No. 38 general prospect within the 2020 class by 247Sports.

But success didn’t arrive by chance.

“There would be times when (my grandpa) would randomly come up to me and he would try to instill a different type of mindset into me,” Jalen McMillan recalled. “When I started getting good at football and started getting into sports, he was the one that was always telling me, ‘You need to work hard. Things don’t come easy. Without work ethic, you’re really nothing.’ He instilled that in me.”

At Washington, Jalen produced 40 catches, 486 receiving yards and three touchdowns in his first two seasons and 14 profession video games. Meanwhile, his grandfather — who routinely wore Jalen’s jersey to medical doctors appointments — battled each lung and esophageal most cancers.

“Towards the end his doctors weren’t even sure which was the dominant one,” Belinda McMillan Haener mentioned. “He had treatment for almost a couple years, and the scans started looking good. And then it just came back everywhere, and he opted not to keep putting his body through all the radiation and chemo. At the time they gave him about six months, but he (fought for) closer to nine months.”

That combat ended on Aug. 20, whereas Jalen was concluding preseason camp. Belinda known as it “the hardest thing (Jalen’s) ever had to go through. This outweighs any injury. Injuries you can heal from and they can feel temporary, but this is going to be a permanent pain for him. It’s probably something that will never fully go away. Anything momentous in his life, he’s going to be wanting him there, and he’s not going to be able to have that.”

Jalen would have wished Opa there on Sept. 3, when he recorded 5 catches for 87 yards and two touchdowns in UW’s 45-20 win over Kent State — pointing to the sky after his first rating of the season. He would have wished him there on Saturday evening, when he outran a pair of Vikings down the left sideline for an 84-yard landing — tied for the seventh-longest reception in Husky historical past.

Still, the McMillan household offered ample help — with Jalen’s mother and father, grandmother (and Herle’s spouse) Angie, youthful siblings Carter and Lauren, uncle and a number of mates nestled within the northwest nook inside Husky Stadium.

The third-year sophomore additionally felt his grandfather’s presence on Saturday, underneath a smoky Seattle sky.

“He was my best friend,” Jalen McMillan mentioned. “He was looking forward to seeing me this season and unfortunately he passed away before the season started. So just him being in the sky watching me is something I have motivating me.”

That motivation has yielded prolific manufacturing, as McMillan leads the Huskies in catches (9), receiving yards (214) and receiving touchdowns (three) in an explosive 2-0 begin. With pale eye-black smeared down each of his cheeks, Jalen mentioned Saturday that “I feel like putting on a show for him is what I need to do. I kind of expect it of myself.”

He’s enjoying for a objective.

As effectively as an individual.

“You talk about a guy I’ve just seen grow, not just as a player but as a person and go through some hard times during fall camp,” UW coach Kalen DeBoer mentioned Saturday. “Man, I couldn’t be more proud of how he’s handled everything — how he’s handled himself as a man, how he’s stood strong even though he’s hurting inside. His grandpa meant the world to him, and I know he’s playing for more than himself — not just today, not tomorrow, but the rest of his career, the rest of his life.”

Jalen McMillan is enjoying for Opa.

Because of Herle Gene McMillan, he’s doing it at UW.

“It makes the victories a little sweeter, to know he stuck through it (after a 4-8 season and two coaching changes),” Belinda McMillan Haener mentioned. “He could have left. A lot of kids can and do in this day and age, and it’s probably an easier decision to walk away. But I know he and my dad talked about it a lot, and he advised him that, ‘You made a commitment here, and it was more than just football. You picked UW for a host of reasons, not only the football program.’

“So I think that helped him really recognize his purpose there.”


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