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Vantrel McMillan, who had 14 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks as a UTC senior in 2016, is a defensive end with the Houston Roughnecks of the XFL. / Staff file photo

The XFL's opening weekend provided some interesting rule changes, but Houston Roughnecks defensive end Vantrel McMillan believes the best is yet to come.

Only one of the four games had a one-possession outcome, and it didn't require the unveiling of the league's unique overtime format.

"For me, practicing the overtime has been the hardest thing to get used to," McMillan said. "You've got five chances to score as many 2-point conversions as you can from the 5-yard line, with the teams alternating the possessions. That has been very interesting to me.

"When I first heard about it, I was like, 'So you're telling me that a team can be down two or four points in overtime and still come back and win?' It may take a little longer sometimes, but I think it's pretty cool."

McMillan, an All-Southern Conference selection as a senior in 2016 after amassing 14.0 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks, is the only former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga player competing in the startup league funded by billionaire Vince McMahon of World Wrestling Entertainment fame. The 6-foot-2, 255-pound McMillan is being coached at Houston by June Jones, the former Atlanta Falcons quarterback and coach.

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UTC defensive lineman Vantrel McMillan celebrates sacking Presbyterian quarterback Ben Cheek during the Mocs' home football game against Presbyterian at Finley Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn. / Staff file photo

Houston opened Saturday with a 37-17 drubbing of the Los Angeles Wildcats, with McMillan making a special-teams tackle.

The XFL employs a drastically different kickoff look, with the kicker at his 30-yard line but his coverage team at the opposing 35. The return team lines up just 5 yards away at its 30, thus preventing the 30-yard sprints by the coverage teams.

"I've never really played special teams that much, but it's really different having everybody so close to eliminate the running and the collisions," McMillan said. "You have to use a lot more technique and be more hands-on, so that was a little different for me. I think it's going to be good, because a lot of good plays could be coming out of this."

McMillan arrived at UTC in 2012 out of Monroe High School in Albany, Georgia. He redshirted his first season and missed all of 2013 due to an injury before flourishing into a reliable force for then-Mocs coach Russ Huesman.

The Mocs went 28-12 in McMillan's final three seasons, reaching the second round of the FCS playoffs each year.

In his final regular-season game, McMillan collected 1.5 sacks in a 31-3 loss at top-ranked Alabama, a contest the Mocs led 3-0 entering the second quarter. It's a feat still worth boasting about more than three years later, but McMillan is staying quiet in that regard amid a Roughnecks defensive front that contains former Southeastern Conference standouts such as Missouri's Kony Ealy and Auburn's Gabe Wright.

"I can't really brag much to impress Kony Ealy," said McMillan, who was a recent guest of "Press Row" on Chattanooga's ESPN 105.1 FM. "He got to play in a Super Bowl (with the Carolina Panthers). I'm learning a lot from those guys, because they've been around it. It's a pleasure to share a locker room with those guys."

McMillan has been a part of multiple locker rooms since his days with the Mocs. He was invited to a mini-camp with the Seattle Seahawks in 2017 before moving on to the Canadian Football League, where he played in four games and had a sack for the 2018 Montreal Alouettes.

The British Columbia Lions of the CFL signed McMillan last March but released him in June.

"Shortly after camp in Canada started, I got a call, and they wanted to see what I can do," he said. "I guess I was impressive when I got to the tryout, because here I am."

McMillan is using the XFL to extend his playing career, and that career could be dependent on whether the XFL survives. The XFL's launch has occurred less than a year after the Alliance of American Football made it just eight weeks into its 10-game schedule and folded due to poor financial planning.

The XFL is better funded with McMahon and had a solid opening weekend in terms of attendance and television ratings, but the AAF got off to a strong start on both fronts as well.

"With us being partnered with Fox and ESPN, I think that will keep getting the XFL's name out there," McMillan said. "We may have some different rules, but it's still football. Some people still don't know about the XFL, but it's coming along.

"I enjoy telling people what I do. It's been a good experience for me."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

 

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