Tanner Mills practices sliding across the goal mouth.
“This stuff is really slippery,” the Rock Bridge goalkeeper tells backup Adam Andrews.
Mills is referring to the artificial turf at the Anheuser-Busch Soccer Park in St. Louis, where he is getting ready for one of the biggest games in his career.
The opponent is the Christian Brothers College Cadets, a St. Louis team that heads into the game ranked No. 1 in the nation by studentsports.com and No. 2 by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.
As usual, he is wearing his Tanner’s restaurant shirt. His lucky shirt?
“It was until Friday,” he said after the Cadets handed Rock Bridge their first loss, 4-0.
“Let’s not go too hard tonight,” he tells Andrews as the two warm up.
The exchange is typical of Mills’ style. Not lazy, he has himself ready to go long before pregame.
“I picture myself (making saves) during warm-ups,” he said.
His preparation is evidenced by his nine shutouts in 14 starts. It would be 10 if not for an own goal against Parkway Central.
The school individual and team record is 15. Mills and the rest of the Bruins’ defense are well aware of that number.
“It’s definitely something we, as a defense, want to do. It’s by no means all on me,” Mills said.
Add in Andrews’ 8-0 shutout of Parkway West and the Bruins’ total is 10. Andrews has assisted in four other shutouts.
“Another goal is the school record for wins,” Mills said.
That record, 19, was set last season.
Mills also handles placekicking and punting duties for the Rock Bridge football team.
“It’s pretty easy for him to fit in. Anybody with a big-time leg like that will always be a welcome addition to our team,” football coach A.J. Ofodile said.
“Anytime you can automatically pin the other team on its own 20 because your kicker can get it through the goalposts consistently on kickoffs, you have a unique commodity.”
Mills plans to continue his soccer career in college — unless he plays football. He has spoken with Alabama-Birmingham, Air Force and Colorado but remains undecided on a school.
After college, he plans to enter medical school.
“I saw a gallbladder surgery today. Probably one of the coolest things in the world,” said Mills, who interns at a doctor’s office.
With nine games left before district play, Mills has mixed feelings about the playoffs.
“I’m definitely looking forward to districts, but each game is one step closer to the end of my high school career,” he said.
“I’m going to miss just hanging around these guys everyday on and off the field. We’re like brothers.”
Assistant coach Myles Hinkel played in goal for the Bruins from 1987-89.
“He’s not going to break any of my records is he,” he wondered when first asked about Mills’ goalkeeping.
Hinkel holds school marks for saves in a career and a season.
“I think he is outstanding. He has all the necessary physical tools that’s for sure,” Hinkel said. “He certainly has the size to do damage at the next level.”
The football roster lists Mills at 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, bigger than most high school kickers.
“One thing I want to do this year is get a good hit on somebody. Maybe it’ll come this week,” he said.
The Bruins play at Webb City, the top-rated team in Class 4 on Friday.
Mills had to miss the football game against Liberty because he was in St. Louis with the soccer team.
“I’m sure it’s a lot more difficult for me than it is for him,” Ofodile said of Mills’ double-duty. “He is really something special.”