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Thursday, June 13, 2024
The Observer

Mills ready to ‘leave no stone unturned’ to defend against Williams

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Senior defensive lineman Rylie Mills (99) makes a tackle during Notre Dame’s 21-14 defeat of Duke at Wakkace Wade Stadium on Sep. 30.


Although he stands out in a crowd at 6-foot-5, senior defensive tackle Rylie Mills has consistently worked behind the scenes to help drive the Irish defense since his arrival in 2020. Eye-catching stats don’t come easy for an interior lineman focused on creating opportunities for others to gain the glory of tackles and sacks. However, Mills has set a career-high for tackles already this season with 27. His improvement shined at Duke, where he amassed seven tackles and earned East-West Shrine Bowl Breakout Defensive Player of the Week.

Last year, Mills rotated between defensive end and tackle, weighing in around 275 to 290 pounds. Changes to his diet and weightlifting regimen bulked him up in the offseason to focus fully on defensive tackle this year at 306 pounds. Despite his gains in size, he hasn’t lost any quickness. He contributed heavily to the Irish defense’s respectable fight against Louisville with five total tackles. Aside from the brutal loss, Mills had praise for the defensive line. 

“Obviously there’s some plays you want to execute better and some plays you want back. For the most part, I think we played really sound football,” Mills said. “In terms of [the] D-line, we had guys executing. It’s great to see. We got depth in the D-line and we got playmakers. It’s just a big deal to have people come out there when their name is called and make a play.”

Though Mills mentioned the team takes Sunday and Monday to recover and reflect, he emphasized getting out of the “rearview mirror” when Tuesday practice rolls around. Instead of dwelling on the what-ifs, the Irish focus on improvements for the next matchup.

“I just think about the next game and what can I do better, what can I improve on,” Mills said. “If you start thinking about bowls and playoffs and get caught up with the future, you miss what’s ahead. For me, I think about what I can do better each game and what I can focus on.”

The Lake Forest, Illinois, native will be needed this week to slow down the powerful USC offense led by Heisman-winning quarterback Caleb Williams. Mills knows the threat in front of him. 

“He’s a playmaker,” Mills said of Williams. “He won the Heisman, and he’s a really good athlete. So he’s definitely someone you want to take care of. You gotta make sure you’re on your A-game. As we go into practice we are trying to make sure we leave no stone unturned and keep executing.”

Mills has proven himself against powerful running teams such as Ohio State, where he garnered four tackles, with two being solo. Playing disciplined defense, just as the Irish did back in September, will be key against the latest undefeated and ranked opponent this weekend.

“We’ve definitely played some good running backs. [Against] Ohio State, we had multiple challenges,” Mills said. “The biggest thing with that is executing and playing sound defense. Not to sound like a broken record, but we know our jobs and we know what to do. I think the whole defense has really come around and makes sure we’re on it and we gotta fix things we need to fix. That’s why Tuesday practice[s] [are] so important. We gotta go out there and act like it’s a game today.”

When Notre Dame met the Trojans last year (and lost), Mills didn’t even appear in the box score. In 2021 against the Trojans, he only made two tackles. However, his breakout performances this season have created an expectation that he will make an impact on the powerful Trojan offense. Mills said he’s prepared to give his all.

“We[‘ve] gotta come out harder, we[‘ve] gotta attack, and we have to make sure we are executing,” Mills said. “Ultimately, it is beat USC this week, so we gotta give 100% to that.”

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