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Mills has change of heart; signs with Emmanuel

Posted: May 21, 2018 3:31 p.m.
Updated: May 22, 2018 1:00 a.m.
Tom Didato/C-I

LUGOFF-ELGIN SENIOR MATTHEW MILLS signed a National Letter of Intent to continue his academic and tennis-playing pursuits at Emmanuel college while flanked by his parents, Judy and Casey Mills. Looking on, from left, are L-E athletic director Matt Campbell, L-E head tennis coach Edward Rickwood, L-E assistant tennis coach Peter Hemingway and L-E principal Worth Thomasson.

There are no game films for tennis coaches to watch in preparing for an upcoming opponent. The first time they see their foe for that day’s match is, for the most part, the time they get to make their initial appraisal of an opponent.

On many an occasion, Lugoff-Elgin tennis coach Edward Rickwood would talk to the coach from the other team as they watched their respective players go through their pre-match routine. On more than one occasion, that coach would stop once he or she arrived at the third singles court to watch Matthew Mills.

What Rickwood and his colleague saw, time and time again in Mills, was a young man who was just a tick off on having everything clicking at the same time.

“This isn’t just me,” Rickwood said of Mills’ tennis technique, “but every time we would go somewhere for a match and I’m talking to the other coach and we’re watching him play, we say that he has the most beautiful form. He has the greatest swing. Coaches often say, ‘I wish I had his serve.’

“If he can just get that together with his mind and, his brain will let him play, he will be unstoppable.”

There were several occasions in which Rickwood and those in attendance at matches were there when everything came together for the 6-foot Mills. For the better part of the next four years, the L-E senior will continue to work on his game at Emmanuel College after having signed a National Letter of Intent with the Lions’ tennis program during a ceremony held inside L-E’s Wellness Center.

Mills follows his older brother Andrew, who completed his junior season as a member of the Emmanuel track and field team. The two are, basically, legacies at the Franklin Springs, Ga., school as both their parents, Judy and Casey Mills, hold degrees from Emmanuel.

For the longest time, however, Matthew Mills thought that he might break the family tradition. It was only after Lions’ head tennis coach Kethan Darbar began to recruit him, Mills had a change of heart and mind.

“The school has been a part of my family for my entire life; it’s where my parents went, it’s where my brother goes,” Mills said of Emmanuel. “I had originally said that I wasn’t going to go there but then, once their tennis coach called me and offered me a scholarship, I was like, ‘Well, I guess so.’

“My parents and my brother always talk about how great a place it is so I thought it would be good for me.”

A faith-based school of less than 1,000 students, Mills said he likes what Emmanuel College can do for him not only when he is a student but, how the institution will prepare him for life after graduation. “I like that it’s a small school and it’s Christian-based,” he said. “I’ve met the pre-law advisor there and I know they are going to set me up for the future and for what I want to do.”

Mills said he understands that the learning curve is greater in college, especially for a student-athlete who must find the balance between keeping up with his studies as well as training for tennis. 

“On the court,” he said, “it’s going to be tougher because you have to work so much harder and there is so much more that you have to do. The physicality of the game is going to be harder than it was in high school.”

One of the many things which Mills has going for himself on and off the court is his intelligence and a desire to get better each day.

“I think he’s very teachable and coachable. He is going to be open to new ideas,” Rickwood said of Mills and adapting to a new coach and a new way of playing tennis. Included in the change from playing the sport in high school to playing ion college is that, in college, players must compete in both singles and doubles in their team’s matches.

“I’m a good baseline player but I can work on my net game, a lot,” Mills said with a smile. “In college tennis, you have to play doubles, no matter what, and that is probably my biggest worry.”

Mills received a late start to playing tennis. After having played football until the sixth grade before he decided to go in a new athletic direction, Mills decided to pick up the racket and give the sport a try. He has not stopped playing tennis since.

“I started playing tennis in the sixth grade when I quit playing football because I didn’t like it anymore,” he said of how he first took up the game. “My parents wanted me to play a sport and we had watched tennis my whole life and we really liked it. They said, ‘How about taking tennis lessons?’

“They called a guy who their friends knew who gave tennis lessons and he got me into it. I really liked it.”

Once he got to Lugoff-Elgin High School, Rickwood took over in the next stage of Mills’ development.

“I’ve always liked Matthew from the first moment he got on the team. He’s a hard worker. He’s always been on time, he always stays late after practice and he is always open to ideas” Rickwood said.

Tennis also supplied Mills what he was missing from a team sport. “The sense of winning,” he said of the best part of playing tennis, “the rush you get from it and, the competition itself.”

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