For Tanner Mills, having balance is essential, not only on the soccer field but also in life.
A junior goalie for Rock Bridge, Mills has almost as many shutouts this year, 11, as goals allowed, 17.
“He’s got all the natural ability in the world; he’s got great hands and great reactions,” Bruins coach David Graham said.
Mills and the Bruins (18-5) will go for a school record for victories when they play Hickman (14-4-5) at 6:30 tonight at Cosmopolitan Park.
Graham says his goalkeeper gets compliments from opponents after almost every game.
A greater impression off the field
Off the field, he makes an even bigger impression.
Mills has been closely associated with K-Life, a youth ministry, for six years. K-Life is a Christian program that brings together kids in junior and senior high school and organizes activities, events and retreats weekly.
“K-Life keeps my life centered around God, which is definitely helpful in high school,” Mills said. “It’s really a social relief for me.”
Paul Fryant, the area director for Columbia K-Life, has known Mills for almost three years and said he has impacted K-Life.
“He doesn’t realize the hands-on approach that he has sometimes,” Fryant said. “But just getting to watch him over the last couple of years and the people that are drawn to be around him, a lot of people come because Tanner is there and because he has invited them.”
Support from a loving family
Mills has always received comfort and constant support from his family.
Mills’ bond with his father, Gary Mills, extends to the soccer field.
“Every day you get to get on the field and get to watch your child playing, that’s a pretty good event,” Gary Mills said. “I don’t know that I’ve even missed one game. I do remember one game in particular about four or five years ago, we were in Topeka, and he was in a tournament.
“I had to leave to go to Arkansas for work the next morning, but about 10 miles down the road, I thought, ‘This is the championship game; what am I doing?’
“I went back to Topeka and stayed; it was a long night, but it was worth it.”
The support from Mills’ family carries him.
“I feel they leave the decisions up to me, and any decision I make, they are 100 percent behind me,” he said. “I definitely appreciate that because without them backing me up, I couldn’t do anything at all.”
A good balance
Mills’ hard work doesn’t stop when he leaves the soccer field. His schoolwork is not overlooked.
“Academics and athletics have to go hand-in-hand,” Gary Mills said, “and we have a good balance on that.”
Graham, in addition to being the soccer coach, also teaches world studies at Rock Bridge and taught Mills as a sophomore.
“I had him in class last year, and it was a treat,” Graham said. “He’s a great student with a magnetic personality.
“This year he’s also mentoring with me, which means he comes back and helps out the students who are sophomores this year, providing help on how to take our class.”
Mills’ extracurricular activities give him a strong demeanor, his father says.
“I remember when I was 16,” Gary Mills said. “How many kids had the predisposition to be able to take the pressure that’s in that position in athletics?
“Add to that parental pressure that all kids are under, and to deal with that and be able to come out of it with a smile all the time. He really amazes me sometimes.”
Graham said Mills benefits from having great team defense, for the Bruins allow only 10.4 shots on goal.
“That’s part of the reason it’s taken him a little longer than keepers in the past to get comfortable back there,” Graham said. “He doesn’t have to be as aggressive to get out there and get the ball.
“(His defense) will take care of it because they’re great defenders.”
Graham said Mills needs to be more aggressive but also said that Mills has shown flashes of dominance.
“When he’s focused in on a game, he can take it over,” Graham said.
Mills, who has a .929 save percentage this year, is in his first season as a starter.