“Back at home” in new offense, Justin McMillan hopes to make the jump from scout team to first team

The precedent has already been established. Justin McMillan just has to make sure history repeats itself, and he’ll find himself in the coveted QB1 spot at LSU this fall.

The redshirt junior is the dark horse in the race under center currently underway this spring for the Tigers, but if he can make the leap from the scout team to the first team, he won’t be the first quarterback in Baton Rouge to do so.

LSU’s departing starter at quarterback, Danny Etling, did the same, spending his redshirt season after transferring from Purdue as the scout team quarterback before ascending to the No. 1 role for his final two seasons. So, too, did D.J. Chark at wide receiver.

I look up to them a lot,” McMillan says of Chark and Etling. “They’re ‘trust the process’ kind of guys. Watching Danny and his smile every day in the room with him, he has no worries, it helps me out, makes me feel comfortable.”

What makes McMillan feel more comfortable is LSU’s new offense, which looks a lot like the system he ran at Cedar Hill High School in Texas. There, as a three-star dual threat, McMillan threw for 2,854 yards and 37 touchdowns, rushing for another 656 yards and six touchdowns. Under new offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger, LSU is working more to highlight McMillan’s strengths as both a passer and a runner.

“I’m back at home. It’s Texas football for me,” he says. “I had a great job in high school, and it was fun. A lot of exciting plays. We’re going to set ourselves up for a lot of exciting plays in this offense. I’ve got a lot of great players who are going to help me out, just let me relax and get them the ball. I just let the playmakers do what they do.”

McMillan’s most trusted playmaker could be Jonathan Giles, who, like Etling and Chark, is looking to make the leap into the starting lineup from a season on the practice squad. The Texas Tech transfer looks set to be LSU’s No. 1 receiver this fall, and McMillan enjoyed the repertoire the two established together last season.

I’m a scout team superstar,” he laughs. “Me and Jonathan had a lot of fun last year doing scout team. We just made the best out of it. Playing under a lot of those offenses was fun. A lot of those offenses mirror the offense we run now.”

He relished the chance to run those various attacks, whether it was imitating Lamar Jackson ahead of the Citrus Bowl two seasons ago or playing the part of Syracuse slinger Eric Dungey.

“When I was running Syracuse’s offense, I probably threw at least 60 balls a practice,” he says. “And I had a blast doing it. Probably threw seven to eight bubbles a practice, 35 deep balls a practice. Coach O just kept telling me, ‘Just keep slinging it.’ That’s what me and Jonathan kept doing. I just looked for Jonathan. Wherever Jonathan was at – me and Jonathan had a little connection – we just made the best out of it.”

Now, McMillan is making the best of the battle under center. Of the three, he has the most experience, and he prepares for his fourth season in Baton Rouge. He’s comfortable on camera, flashing a million-Watt smile in between soundbites. It’s a comfort he hopes to carry to the huddle – hopefully, he says, as a starter.

I’ve seen it all before,” he says. “I’m just trying to be as big a leader for this offense as I can and try to keep everybody positive.”


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Cody Worsham

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