Three years as a starter in the Ames secondary provided Jake Mills with only a few opportunities to showcase his skills with a football in his hands.
Two plays Friday night gave him the chance to stamp his name in the national high school record books.
Mills tied a national prep record last week when he returned a pair of interceptions for touchdowns in the same quarter. The 6-foot, 185-pound senior safety scored on returns of 96 and 76 yards during the second quarter of Ames’ 70-6 victory against North. He matched a feat accomplished by 10 others prior to this season, including a pair of Iowans.
Urbandale’s Allen Lazard returned a pair of interceptions for scores last year against Hoover and Davenport Assumption’s Tim Kilfoy did the same thing a week later against Burlington.
“For me, it’s cool to get my name out there and be part of a national record with all of those high school players who have done the same thing,” Mills said. “It’s something to look back on as a good memory, but it’s not really for me, it’s for my team.”
Mills is tied for the Class 4-A lead with five picks this year and he’s tops in the state with 260 interception return yards.
“His experience comes in handy because sometimes you can anticipate,” Ames coach Bruce Vertanen said. “The more comfortable you are back there, the more games you play, the more you see things.
“Defensive back play, a huge part of that is film study and everybody does it right now, but you’ve got to really buy into it … and see these routes over and over again and be there when the opportunity arises.”
Opportunity flew in Mills’ direction twice in a matter of minutes last week. He stepped in front of a pass intended for a North running back and raced 96 yards for his first touchdown. On his second interception, he weaved across the field on his way to the end zone.
There’s an orchestrated team element involved in Mills’ big returns. The Little Cyclones work in practice on the instant change from defense to offense and they’ve had 12 opportunities to work on interception returns this season.
It doesn’t hurt that Mills knows what to do with the football in his hands.
“We need him at defensive back right now, but he would also be an outstanding receiver,” Vertanen said. “When he gets the ball in his hands, he’s not just looking for a couple yards, he’s trying to extend that and turn himself into an offensive player — and at heart, he really is.”