Arizona WR Tetairoa McMillan ascending into multi-dimensional weapon in Wildcats' offense

Aug 11, 2023 Updated 15 hrs ago
Bragging and boasting about himself isn't a part of Tetairoa McMillan's DNA.
Why would it be? The Arizona sophomore wide receiver — also known as "T-Mac" — is the highest-rated signee in program history and he's one of the Wildcats' top offensive weapons returning for the upcoming season.
"I don't really like to talk about myself too much. ... I let other people talk for me," McMillan said. "I let the game speak for itself."
That's partially the reason why McMillan believes he was left off the 49-player Biletnikoff Award preseason watch list.
Considering the buzz McMillan generated as multi-sport (football, volleyball, basketball) star at Servite High School in Anaheim, California and developing into a highly-touted wide receiver, along with a productive 2022 season where he recorded 39 catches for 702 yards and eight touchdowns and earned two Pac-12 Freshman of the Week honors, it's safe to assume McMillan is among the top wide receivers in the nation — or in the same breath as the other 10 Pac-12 receivers who made the Biletnikoff Award watch list.
"At the same time, I don't deserve to be put on there. My stats last year — I was the third receiver on the team (behind Jacob Cowing and Dorian Singer)," McMillan said. "My stats last year weren't really up there. I understand why they didn't put me up there, but at the end of the day, I'm going to have confidence in myself and say they're sleeping on me."
Arizona wide receivers coach Kevin Cummings said McMillan "did decent statistically" as a true freshman, "but you watch the film of that, there's a whole bunch to grow," he said.
"It took him about three or four games to figure out the speed, the toughness, the physicality," said Cummings. "That happens from freshman to sophomore year as well."
Luckily for McMillan, he was a part of Arizona's starting pass-catching trio of Cowing and Singer, who led the Wildcats in receiving before transferring to USC. Cowing, who McMillan called "the captain of our offense and the best receiver on the team," led the Pac-12 in receptions (85).
"I learn from (Cowing) every day, whether it's film study, rehab, nutrition, mobility, his ability to play-make. ... Being able to learn from them has made me (a way) better player," McMillan said.
Despite McMillan's lofty expectations as a freshman, his route-running options were simplified and near the sideline or the corner of the end zone. Last season, McMillan had 195 yards after catches (YAC), according to Pro Football Focus, albeit averaged 16.2 yards per target. Cowing totaled 638 yards after catches last season, but also more than doubled McMillan's receptions count.
"That was just a part of him transitioning from high school to college," Cummings said. "There's certain ways you have to run, certain routes. ... There were certain routes we didn't have him run last year, because it takes some time to learn. But now he's got the full playbook at his disposal, and so we put him in a bunch of different situations."
McMillan jokingly said "I get on coach Fisch all the time about last year (when) he kept me one-dimensional."
"I was the young buck last year, so I had to play my role," McMillan said. "Obviously this year, I'm going to take a bigger role. Anything I can do to help out the team, be more versatile, I'm all for it."
Since arriving to Arizona in spring of 2022, the 6-5 McMillan has gained over 20 pounds and is "between 205 and 210."
"I'm more lean. I know how to carry the weight now. I'm a lot stronger, a lot faster, so I feel good," McMillan said. "The weight feels good on me, for sure."
The added weight and one year of experience has transformed McMillan's playmaking abilities in space between the hashmarks — and away from the sidelines. In the spring, McMillan hauled in several acrobatic, one-handed, jaw-dropping, eyebrow-raising catches. He's doubling down on those highlight grabs in preseason training camp, but also steadily improving in the YAC department.
"The kid can roll. ... The kid's fast, the kid's physical and the kid's big, he can jump, so he's a freak athlete at the end of the day," Cowing said of McMillan. "You gotta watch out for him."
McMillan's long-legged strides running routes aren't flashy or slot receiver-y, but he's often used angles — and his size — to his advantage when navigating with the ball in training camp. McMillan has succeeded in matchups with multiple body types at defensive back, including the 6-4, 190-pound Ephesians Prysock and 5-9, 180-pound Jai-Ayviauynn Celestine, who is among the fastest players on Arizona's roster.
"It's not all about speed, it's about how you use your speed," Cummings said. "I think that's the thing that T-Mac is special with. He can glide into a route, but be so good at the top of it that the (defensive back) isn't able to break on it so fast."
A more polished and well-rounded McMillan could result in a season worthy of contending for the Biletnikoff Award.
"Hopefully you'll see me score more points, get more touches, be this electrifying player that people say that I am," he said.
Said Cummings: "He's a young cat that just got his feet wet last year, so I'm confident that once we start this season and get a couple of games into it, the world will recognize who he is. But I like that he's a little underrated.
"He's always been this highly-touted kid, so it'll give him a little hunger, a little drive to let people know exactly what he is."
Extra points:
• Several Arizona players hail from Hawaii, which is experiencing severe wildfires in Maui. According to the Associated Press, the death toll in Maui increased to 67 people as of Friday evening. Arizona quarterback Jayden de Laura, who is originally from Honolulu, said, "My immediate family is fine," but noted his grandfather's siblings "are on that island." Said McMillan: "My condolences go out to the people of Maui and all of the families that have either lost their lives or homes." McMillan's grandmother is accepting donations for Maui residents affected by the fire. Donations can be sent to "Hui Mahi'ai Aina," a camp for the houseless, at 41-902 Oluolu St. in Waimanalo, Hawaii
• Cowing, on Colorado transfer and "Z" receiver Montana Lemonious-Craig: "He's going to bring some fire, for sure. He's the kind of guy that's going to go up and get the ball. He's learning the offense pretty well so far. I think he's going to be a big factor on the offensive side this year."
• McMillan said "a lot of people sleep on" Celestine, who's had intense one-on-one battles with Arizona's starting receivers, including Cowing and McMillan. Said McMillan: "G is my boy, and he can definitely hold his ground. Like I said, a lot of people sleep on him, but I think he's prepared to play in the game and make plays."
• Former Arizona star linebacker and back-to-back USFL champion Scooby Wright was in attendance for Arizona's practice on Friday before the scrimmage.

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