By BEN JOHNSON
Carrying on a family legacy. That's what Wednesday was all about for Mason McMillan.
Tahlequah's senior tailback — now the school's record holder of the single-season rushing mark — followed in his father's footsteps and signed his letter on intent to play college football at Northeastern State.
"I wanted to play at NSU because that's where my dad played," McMillan said. "And a lot of people I know have played there."
At the recently-opened cafeteria at Tahlequah High School, McMillan was one of four Tahlequah athletes to sign a letter of intent. The spirited ceremony also featured Tyler Eisensmith (signed with Northwestern College (Iowa)), Jordan Roach (signed with Oklahoma Baptist) and Jessica Hembree (signed with Oklahoma).
For Northeastern State, McMillan was part of a signing class that featured 29 players. And McMillan couldn't be happier to carry on the McMillan name for the RiverHawks.
"I grew up watching NSU play," said the son of Josh McMillan. "It's pretty special. It's been a longtime goal of mine."
As a senior, McMillan rushed for 1,241 yards during Tahlequah's 1-9 season in 2012.
"I had the best O-line we had had in some time," McMillan said. "I had a good fullback, also, so it didn't make my job too hard. The offense was made to where I could take all the guess work out and just run."
Eisensmith heads north
Midway through the 2012 season, Tyler Eisensmith suffered a high-ankle sprain, and he thought that could have been a wrap on his football career.
"I thought I was done," Eisensmith said. "...I had never been hurt my freshman through junior year, so that was my only injury. I was just concerned about when [I could return] and how bad it was. I just wanted to be able to get back out."
Eisensmith was able to return late in the Tigers' season, and now next season he'll be able to continue his career at Northwestern College.
"I didn't know if this was a realistic choice, since it was so far away," Eisensmith said of joining the Red Raiders. "But I went up there and the town, the campus was amazing. The coaches were great, and what really got me was their tradition; they expect to win every game."
Eisensmith described the feeling of signing his letter of intent as a "dream come true."
"This is all I've wanted to do," said Eisensmith, who led the Tigers in receiving during his senior season. "To be able to say that I'm going to play college football is a dream come true."
Once Eisensmith arrives at the NAIA school in Orange City, Iowa, he intends on perhaps playing his way up in the college ranks.
"I wouldn't say that's the plan," Eisensmith said of one day playing at a Division I or Division II program, "but that's definitely another goal for me."
Roach to high jump, Hembree to run in college
Grinning from ear to ear, Jordan Roach's excitement was on full display Wednesday.
"I'm really excited," said Roach, who will head to Shawnee to join the Bison. "I'm very happy. I'm a little bit nervous about the future and everything. But I'm excited."
Roach, donning a green OBU shirt, said there wasn't much question about which college she was going to high jump at.
"I've been to a few camps there," she said, "and my parents both went there, so I feel like it's where I need to be."
Judging by this year's roster, Roach will become the only Tahlequah athlete on the Bison's roster.
"I hope other students and athletes look at this and realize it's a possibility for them," Tahlequah coach Elzy Miller said. "Hopefully it'll bring some more kids into our program."
While Miller loses Roach's services during track season, the longtime Tahlequah coach will be without Hembree in both cross country and track.
"They're going to be hard to replace," Miller said. "...We do this every year and we say, 'we can't replace them, we can't replace them.' And I'm serious this time, I don't know if we can replace these two kids."
Hembree, a three-time state champion in cross country, said she never pictured her future where she'd be this successful before going off to a Division I program.
"I never would have imagined this happening," said Hembree, who recovered from a leg injury as a junior to win the 5A state cross country crown easily in October.
Now, she's off to help the Sooners reestablish themselves as a prominent national power.
"It'll just be really exciting," Hembree said, "to help the program rebuild itself."