Every year in preseason camp, someone will catch your eye.
Sometimes, it's the flashy guy who runs like a gazelle and can't quit talking. Other times, it's a sculpted and gifted offensive player who simply separates from the rest.
Brandon Mills is neither of those. But, Brandon Mills can play football.
He's your typical "lunchbucket" local high school player who got snubbed from the so-called "big schools" because item number one in the "Lazy Man's Short Sighted Book of Recruiting" states, "Only a bigger guy can succeed in athletics."
Ask those that took a pass on Flutie and Brees or here with Mauk and Collaros. Or, in more accurate terms, look at how many missed on Tony Carvitti out of Elder or Terrill Byrd of Colerain.
Somewhere between Carvitti and Byrd is Brandon Mills (also out of Colerain). Mills is 5-10 and about 236 pounds, about 60 pounds less than Byrd and around the same size as Carvitti. He won four letters at Colerain, which at last check is one of the leading football programs in this area. He also with three-time all Greater Miami Conference and all Southwest Ohio.
All that, and the only schools interested in giving Brandon Mills a scholarship were in the MAC.
Fortunately, Brandon's former high school coach had just taken a job with the Bearcats. After the initial season of Kerry Coombs at UC with Brian Kelly, Mills was invited to prove himself in the Big East.
After a redshirt year in '08, Mills recorded 25 tackles, eight tackles for loss, three and a half sacks and had a quarterback hurry in '09. On a defensive line full of monsters, Mills' low center of gravity is effective as he maneuvers past offensive linemen that have 70 pounds on him to find the football.
For that, he's being rewarded with increased playing time on a defensive line that, for the most part, dwarfs him.
"I'm a key factor being the 'Leo' and I've learned all of the other first spots too, just in case someone goes down," said Mills.
There is no letdown in bringing Brandon Mills into the game. He's like the feisty neighborhood dog that protects it's property when the trendy Labrador gets too close. The uninformed think "the Lab" can have it's way, but the feisty dog will not back down under any circumstances.
A similar scenario took place recently at Higher Ground when offensive lineman Alex Hoffman was trying to sustain a block on Mills. In the opinion of Mills, Hoffman appeared to be exceeding his physical responsibilities, so Mills fought back and briefly, it was "Ali-Frazier, round 15".
Hoffman is 6-7, 296 pounds. Close to a foot taller and 60 pounds heavier. But, Mills stood his ground and didn't do what most of us would do if we were being threatened by a 300-pound dude.
Turning tail and running is not in the Brandon Mills job description.
"It's just good," said Mills. "We're still a family, brothers, we love each other out here."
While that may be true, it's also true that jobs are on the line and a few days on the worksite over 90 degrees can bring the occasional flare-up.
"We've got to get it a little under control," said Coach Butch Jones. "We've got some competitive individuals and they've got to know there's a line and you can't cross that line. We've got to get after each other, but once the double horn blows we're teammates, and it's all about team."
That's pretty much the way Brandon Mills handled it as he was as friendly as could be just 15 minutes removed from the scuffle. Between the lines, Brandon Mills is a warrior. Outside the lines, there's probably no better method team bonding in the heat than sharing an over-sized kiddie pool full of water and ice.
By the time I talked to him, Mills was much less focused on the fight and was pointing an eye toward the refreshing plunge.
"It's very important," said Mills as he prepped for his impending Rodney Dangerfield "Triple Lindy". "We need that to be healthy and be refreshed after a hard practice like this. You've got to get in the cold tub."
For the record, Mills has confirmed that Colerain had no cold tub. Beyond that, his scrappiness is why he's in the defensive line mix in just his redshirt sophomore year. Watch Kerry Coombs coach for a few minutes and you understand why his ex-Cardinal players are so intense.
"It's just a mindset," said Mills. "Everyone here wants to go and win a championship. You've got to put those things (fights) behind you and look past into the future. I just bring a good mindset to the game. I bring enthusiasm and intensity and I just play hard on every snap."
The goal of Mills and the defense in 2010 is to change the national thinking that the Bearcats can only play offense. The infamous 3-4 of former coordinator Bob Diaco has gone north with the leprechaun and these Bearcats are determined to hit someone in the mouth (preferably not their own teammates). The "no defense" tag is one this group wants to be rid of.
"We don't like that," admitted Mills. "But, this year they're going to start talking about the defense and the offense as a team. It's going to be a great team this year. Defense is going to be Top 10 this year, no problem!"
Confidence is something you like in your defense and it can't always be taught. When you're Brandon Mills, and you're not used to losing in high school or college, it comes easy. He's got the "bite", and the "bark" is something UC's defense has always had in the practices I've witnessed.
"Yes sir, you've got to give defense the edge in that," said a smiling Mills.
With that, the gritty front-line soldier shucked his shoulder pads and walked toward the glistening pool of sweaty lineman that looked like a pack of resting manatees.
"I might do something," said Mills. "Cannonball probably."