So when Jake stated his intent to follow his older brother into the U.S. Marine Corps following his senior year at Atholton, Eugene urged him to think twice and “do something better,” perhaps by pursuing his promising hockey career in college. But Jake remained steadfast, even when he received the most devastating news imaginable: On June 22, Lance Cpl. Eugene Mills III was killed in combat in Afghanistan.
When No. 6 Atholton (11-1-1) faces Easton (12-0) in Thursday night’s Maryland Student Hockey League 2A semifinals, the Raiders will be looking to take the penultimate step toward defending their 2012 championship in a season they have dedicated to Eugene’s memory. But the game also could be the last of Jake’s career: He is bound for boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., on May 27.
“It was always ahead, and I never really lost sight of it,” Jake said. “I just kept thinking, ‘I want to serve my country,’ all these things of why I wanted to stay. The whole [Eugene] thing really got me to want to do it even more.”
The pride, brotherhood and camaraderie of the military pull at him. For all of the brothers’ differences, it’s a chance to hold tight to a bond they share.
“My brother joined because he wanted to serve his country,” Jake said. “He wasn’t thinking about himself or anything.
“Me and him are alike in some ways, and I think that’s one of them. We don’t really think about ourselves. We think about other people.”
A two-way defenseman at Atholton, Jake Mills sports a scorer’s touch and an enforcer’s physical presence. The 18-year-old team captain exudes a maturity hastened by tragedy and his own military commitment.
He already carries the close-cropped hair, thick arms and steely demeanor of a Marine, and he spends three afternoons a week working out at their recruiting center in Columbia. Atholton Coach Bud Michels calls Jake “by far the toughest kid, mentally and physically, in all high school hockey in Maryland,” describing him as a leader with great composure, who never says anything without a purpose.
A natural leader
In a Dec. 14 game against Glenelg, the Raiders were playing without starting goalie Tommy Pappas and trailed entering the third period. Jake got after his teammates, exhorting them to dig down and pull together.
Atholton scored the final three goals, the last with two seconds left in regulation, and won, 5-4.
“I can’t say the exact words, but it wasn’t in a negative manner,” Michels said. “He wasn’t chastising them. He was motivating them. He’ll make a good Marine.”
His parents agree, but struggle to cope with his impending departure.