Given a chance to resume playing tackle football, Cony senior Casey Mills was looking forward to one thing.

Above all else — including any victories, championships or statistics — Mills just couldn’t wait to play.

“There was never an end goal. The gap that I had in my junior year didn’t make me want to have 100 tackles my senior year,” he said. “Not having a junior season just made me want to go out and hit somebody. And that’s what I did.”

And he did it as well as anyone else in the state. Mills on Saturday was named the recipient of the 2021 Frank J. Gaziano Awards, given annually to the state’s top senior linemen in high school football. Mills won the defensive lineman award. He received the recognition after compiling 87 tackles, recording eight sacks and being a constant disruptive force at defensive end for a Cony team that reached the Class B North semifinals.

Mills’s victory came three years after his cousin, Nic, was a Gaziano finalist. Casey Mills knew he had a chance as one of three finalists, but was still surprised to hear his name called.

“I didn’t think I was going to win it, I didn’t expect to win it, but when you’re in the top three your odds go up quite a bit,” Mills, who earned a $5,000 scholarship with the award, said on Monday. “It was a surprise. We’re a Class B school, we had a good record but we didn’t win states or anything. You had another finalist on the defensive side (Cody Ruff) that won down there with Thornton Academy.


“You see kids all over the place that are athletic and smart, and I’m sure if you did this thing a couple of other times I wouldn’t be the winner every time. It happened this time, and I’m really appreciative of it.”

Cony coach B.L. Lippert said he was thrilled to see Mills take the honor.

Windham High School inside linebacker Tobias Perkins (4) breaks up a pass intended for Cony High School tight end Casey Mills in Oakland during a football game on Oct. 9. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“It’s just a reflection of the totality of his resume,” Lippert said. “The whole package is really impressive. … As a defensive end, when the play is in your direction, most guys get activated. But what Casey does that maybe others don’t do is when the play’s away from him, his motor doesn’t quit. He’ll chase it down, he caused a couple of fumbles chasing plays down from behind. His energy and enthusiasm on the defensive side sort of stands out on film.”

Mills said that’s by design.

“There was no way to calm me down once I was on the field,” he said. “I remember our first home game on the turf field, I looked in the stands and I just had a smile on my face. About two seconds later, the smile went away and I was ready for action. It’s impossible to not want to give it your all when you’re surrounded with other people who are giving it their all.”

Mills said that from the moment the season began, he was eager to make the most of it.


“I think I had a better senior season because I had that drive,” he said. “It was about, I haven’t played in a couple of years, and I need to go out and play as best as I can every play. … Good players don’t think about what stats they’re going to have at the end of the year. Good players think about ‘What am I going to do on this play to make the most impact?'”

Often, when Cony needed a play, Mills was the one delivering it. Lippert recalled the season-opening 36-35 victory over Skowhegan, when Cony came back from a 35-21 deficit. On a key play with the Rams down 35-28 late in the third quarter and needing a stop, Mills ripped the ball away from River Hawks quarterback Adam Savage, denying Skowhegan a chance to score points that might have made Cony’s path back too steep.

“That was a play where it’s like ‘OK, that’s a senior making a really big play in a big moment,'” Lippert said. “He had a sense for when we needed a play defensively. … In the biggest moments, he made a lot of really big plays.”

The award is representative of that, though Mills shared the credit with his team.

“Without other people, the coaching staff and our defensive coach … and even in the game, without linebackers and stars turning the play inside so I can get them sometimes, I would have never had the same kind of season,” he said. “My name’s on the award and my name’s been in the paper and on the news, but there are dozens and dozens of other players and coaches that have played a huge role into that success.”

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: