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South-Central L.A.'s Small Miracle : At 5-Foot-7, Mark Mcmillian Beats the Odds to Become a Starting Defensive Back in the NFL

December 18, 1994|MARK MCMILLIAN | Mark McMillian, 24, was born and raised in South-Central. McMillian is a starting defensive back for the Philadelphia Eagles, and at 5-feet-7, one of the smallest starters in the National Football League. He did not begin playing organized football until he was a senior at Granada Hills' Kennedy High School. He was a Junior College All-American at Glendale College before receiving a scholarship to Alabama. The Eagles selected McMillian in the 10th round in the 1992 draft and he quickly moved from the special teams to the starting lineup in his second season. McMillian says he would like to be a role model for inner-city youths, but because he attended a high school in the Valley, he rarely is asked to speak at local school functions or charity meetings. He hopes to bring his message of working hard to achieve one's goals back to South-Central, which he considers home. McMillian was interviewed by Sean Waters. and

I remember the goal of parents once was to see their son reach 18 and graduate from high school and go on from there. Today, it's to see your son reach 25 alive. That's a milestone.

Drugs and violence are out of control and it's only getting bigger.

There was this incident four years ago when three of my friends from South-Central got shot, and two died. I was at Alabama at the time. If I (hadn't been going to school there), I would have been with those friends, and it could have been me.

(Another incident) I remember, I shipped three big boxes to my old house in South-Central, and I was told that the police came by because they thought I was shipping drugs. That's the perception we have to live with.

We have to get over that mentality. We need to move forward or we haven't accomplished much of anything since the riots.

When I come back to visit, I don't see much activity in the neighborhood. The parks are still there, but they don't have the funds for football or basketball leagues. During the riots, a lot (of businesses) burned down. . . . I remember a liquor store in the middle of the area where everyone used to hang out. But it's gone. Now everyone has to drive to get milk or stuff. It doesn't take a year or two to build a new liquor store. The community can be cleaned up a lot better.

I look at kids today. They have a choice to either get a part-time job . . . and work their way up, or be a runner and sell drugs. What do you think they're going to choose? They're going to choose the big wad of money.

It's time to reach out to the kids. The people who you share with now will be the same people that share with you when they succeed. It takes a lot of patience, but we need to guide kids today.

Whether you're an elder male or a teacher, you need to play a bigger role today. Teachers should show more love and concern.

I was talking to (teammate and defensive back) Eric Allen and he agreed that you (can) take the kid out of the ghetto, but you can't take the ghetto out of the kid. If all you know is the community that you live in, then that's where you should stay and help to try to make it a better place. Too much is made of the Hollywood lifestyle and living in Bel-Air and Beverly Hills. I want to put time and effort back into the community and help the young kids discover a better way to live. You can't give them the things they should have, but you can teach them how to get it for themselves.

I know it helps every Saturday or Sunday (for me) to be out there on the playing field, because someone is off the streets watching me on TV. I call back home and let people know that I'm not too big to forget.

Now I'm reaching out to other athletes and other people who can serve as role models. I tell them, go to charity functions at the schools and at the parks. Let the kids know you are out there.

We need to see more role models of today. It was nice to see Magic Johnson do a lot of community work when he was with the Lakers. Now someone else has to step forward. I'm one of the rising stars and I know a lot of people are wondering what I'm doing. Well, I want more opportunities to speak to more people.

A person like me or (Dallas Cowboys defensive back and former Jordan High star) James Washington who makes the big time should be treated like role models, and big-time papers should focus on us. We might not be able to reach out to all the kids, but maybe one or two can see what I've accomplished and will try harder. I'm considered the smallest starting player in the NFL. I can't tell you not to do this or that, but I can tell you to reach for your dreams, because anything is possible.

I know it's hard to grow up in the city. People told me to stay away from drugs, stay in school and listen to teachers and everything will be all right. But as a teen-ager I didn't always listen.

Now that I've made it to the NFL, I realize how much that advice really helped me out. So I tell kids the same thing: Stay in school and stay away from the drugs.

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