Tyrece Mills was happy being the strong safety.
But he really wanted to be the free safety.
Mills is a senior at Northeast High School, and during his sophomore and junior seasons, Mills served as the run stopper for the Vikings while Ubayd Steed played free safety. But this summer, Steed transferred to Neumann-Goretti, creating a void at free safety. It was one that filled up quickly.
“Last year when we would go to second-string defense, I would ask to stay out and play free safety because that’s my best position,” Mills said. “At strong safety, I can play it and I liked it, but you can’t show off your ball skills and you can’t hit people. At strong safety, you’re playing the run, so you can form tackle, and I’m good at that, but at free safety, you can do so much more. I wanted to play it so bad.
“When they moved me there, I was so happy because I have skills that work well in playing that position. I see the field and I love making plays on balls. I knew I could do it, but I play wherever they need me, I don’t complain.”
Mills is more than making the most of the switch. He’s grown into one of the best defensive backs in Southeastern Pennsylvania, generating a lot of interest from Division I schools and in the process, he’s greatly helping Northeast’s defense.
Mills has picked off nine passes on the season, returning two for touchdowns. He’s also a menacing hitter who causes a lot of receivers to hear footsteps, thus causing them to drop passes. He also helps out on offense at receiver when the situation calls for it.
Behind the stellar defense, Northeast is enjoying a fantastic season that includes a Public League championship and a win over Imhotep Charter during the regular season,
The Vikings have had high hopes all year for having a memorable year, and while championships are the ultimate goal, Northeast certainly wants to win its annual game against Central in the nation’s oldest Thanksgiving Day rivalry. It will also mark the final home game for Mills and company.
“I love playing at home, I love everything about it,” said Mills, who lives in Lawncrest. “I love the field, and I love the atmosphere. Everyone comes to our games, we get great support from everyone. I’m happy we’re playing there.
“And I love playing Central. They’re our biggest game. And I’ve never lost to them. I’ve played them a lot. We played them three times last year and we played them this year. I love playing them because it’s our biggest game. It’s the game everybody wants us to win.”
The Vikings have dominated Central as of late. Over the last three years, Northeast has bested the Lancers seven times.
Central will likely have a devil of a time moving the ball against Northeast because just about every team has struggled. The Vikings have posted seven shutouts on the season, including a 41-0 win over Central in October.
“Our defense is good because we have great defensive backs and our defensive line gets to the quarterback so fast,” Mills said. “I have a lot of interceptions because everyone does their job. The defensive line gets there in four seconds, and the defensive backs lock their guys down. We have good linebackers, too. I just read the quarterback’s eyes and make my move. Sometimes I have to guess, and this year I’ve guessed right a lot. I just rely on instinct and great players around me.”
That’s the attitude that makes him the perfect leader of the team.
And it’s something the Vikings needed.
Northeast has as much talent as any team in the area, with many players getting Division I attention. But like any football team, Northeast needed a guy to take over and be the leader. That’s something Mills has done since January, when the team met in the weight room to prepare for the season.
“I’m happy that a lot of the guys look up to me as a football player and a person,” Mills said. “I take that very seriously. I’ll be the guy who tells people when they have to play better. And it makes me play better. I have to play up, because if I’m not playing well, I can’t be that leader. I have to make sure I”m doing what’s right. I have to play up so I can tell everyone else to play up. It helps everyone.”
Mills will certainly play football next year. He’s had some offers, and many others have shown interest.
He’ll make a decision where he’ll end up after football season, but he’s optimistic he’ll end up at a great school.
“I’m ready to play college football,” Mills said. “I’m not sure what I want to major in. I like business. I want to make money off of things I create. But I’m not sure what I’ll study. I need to see a list of majors (offered at his school) and then I’ll decide.”