COLUMBIA – About 10 minutes away from Memorial Stadium, Rob and Joy Millard are hosting a tailgate.
More than 30 people are scattered inside and around their suburban home. A feast of fried chicken, deviled eggs and pizza covers the island in the kitchen. Card tables are set up in the garage for snacks and alcohol. Outside, friends and family are exchanging stories and tossing washers.
Trey Millard had 2 receptions for 37 yards for Oklahoma in a 36-27 loss to Missouri on Saturday. Millard, a fullback, had two carries for three yards, which included a touchdown and a fourth-down conversion.
It’s a typical tailgate — just not for the Millards.
Normally, they’re not even hosting the tailgate. Normally, they’re not wearing crimson and cream. Normally, there’s not a 10-foot-tall Oklahoma flag waving next to the Missouri one on their nicely trimmed lawn.
Things have changed for the Millards.
When their youngest son, Trey Millard, decided to play football for the Sooners, they knew things were going to be different.
“It’s his choice. It’s his life. It’s his skill set,” Joy Millard said. “We said, ‘Whatever you want to do, we’ll support you. We’ll follow you.’ He knew we’d follow him wherever he went whether it’s down the road or seven-and-a-half hours down the road.”
Rob Millard has spent all but two years of his life in mid-Missouri and Joy has been in Columbia for the past 27 years.
Now the two are sipping beers wrapped in Oklahoma koozies.
“I really wanted him to go away somewhere,” Rob Millard said. “I thought he would do better on his own with an opportunity to make his own path not being under the hometown spotlight.”
That’s exactly where Trey Millard was Saturday. And five hours before kickoff, his mom was nervous about how the fans would greet a lost local hero.
“It’s my son. If someone says something negative about your child, it hurts,” Joy Millard said.
There’s been plenty of that.
When Trey Millard was 17 and a four-star recruit at Rock Bridge High School, he made a verbal commitment to Oklahoma. It didn’t go over well around town.
“You read the paper and there’s online comments. You see people say things about him being a traitor and leaving town,” Rob Millard said. “People don’t realize that he’s 17 years old and it’s his future. It’s not about playing for a home team.”
The comments didn’t end online. During high school, Trey Millard worked as a life guard, and he’d have strangers come up to tell him he made a mistake.
“I don’t think people realize he’s a real person,” Joy Millard said. “I think sometimes they’re so caught up in the team spirit, or whatever, the fan base."
The Millards didn’t have a chance to watch ‘College GameDay’ Saturday morning because they were prepping their house for the tailgate, but among hundreds of other signs was one about their son.
It read: “Trey-Tor.”
“It’s hard,” Joy Millard said. “I want to say 'Do you know him? Do you know anything about him?’ before you say something mean about him, but that’s just people. You just try to smile and walk away.”
The animosity is one of the reasons the Millards decided to throw the tailgate.
“You go out to the stadium and tailgate and you have all these people you normally tailgate with for a Missouri game,” Rob Millard said. “You’re walking around in your OU stuff and that probably would have made it pretty difficult.”
During the game the Millards won’t have to worry about fitting in because they’ll be sitting with the away team fans for the first time.
“I don’t want to see Missouri get killed or blown out of anything,” Roy Millard said. “I really want it to be a competitive game. Obviously for Trey’s aspirations and the National Championship, I want Oklahoma to win. If they had lost two games already, I probably wouldn’t care if they won or not.”
Trey Millard’s great-uncle Steve said it might be a bit harder for him to hide his emotions.
“I’m sure I will catch myself going ‘yeah’ for Missouri and then going ‘Oops,’” Steve Millard said.
Even though Steve Millard said he had hoped his great-nephew was going to become a Tiger, he was proud to wear an Oklahoma shirt Saturday night.
“It’s my nephew," he said. "I have to wear red. As soon as he graduates we can go back.”