The late T.J. Mills joined the greats on the gridiron from the lone star state Saturday night and took his place in the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame in Waco.
Mills, who won four consecutive state championships in football with the Sealy Tigers, was one of two recipients of the Eddie Joseph Coaches Awards alongside Scott Phillips, who won state championships at Groveton and Waxahachie.
Phillips was also the head coach on the losing side of possibly the most talked-about ending to a high school football game where his Plano East Panthers came up with three onside kicks in a row to take a 44-41 lead, erasing a 24-point deficit. John Tyler responded by taking the ensuing kickoff 97 yards for the winning score in the final seconds.
The coach sat next to Mills’ wife, Becky, who was accepting the posthumous honor on T.J.’s behalf, at the introductory press conference at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame and joked that he didn’t win as many championships at Mills, “and not nearly in a row like that.”
The run from 1994 to 1997 that all ended with the Sealy Tigers hoisting the state championship trophy produced 20 first-team All-State players while re-writing the record books.
A 35-game win streak from 1994 to 1996 smashed a 40-year-old record with an 82-6 win also in the mix (1995 area championship over Newton), the highest point total in an 11-man playoff game in more than 40 years.
The Texas Sports Writers Association named him Coach of the Year four times and Mills was enshrined in the Texas High School Coaches Association’s Hall of Honor in 2014.
Not long after that, however, he passed away, so Becky stepped up in his place and has been accepting honors like this since April of 2015.
“This is probably the highlight of his career,” she said. “He would be so honored to be here; this would mean so very much to him as well as our family.”
The press conference was soon followed by the banquet, where each of the inductees were officially welcomed into the hall of fame and were invited to make a speech. One player from each decade, starting with the 1950s and before up through the 2000s, gets their call to the hall each year as well as two coaches and a contributor to the game.
Ken Casner (’50s and before), Ken Houston (’60s), Putt Choate (’70s), Willie Everett (’80s), Jason Bragg (’90s), Adrian Peterson (’00s) and Jon Heidtke (Dave Campbell’s Contributor to the Game) will all have their names go down in history, alongside coaches Phillips and Mills, as the 2019 class of the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame.
Peterson was on the other side of Becky at the press conference and after a lull in autographing footballs that were later raffled off, she asked for his personal autograph to keep for herself.
“You always meet the best people in sports, especially in football,” she added. “It’s the cream of the crop, people that are off the charts.”
Among those joining the family friends and coaching staff of Mills at the banquet was current head football coach of the Sealy Tigers in Shane Mobley, who said it was an honor to be representing the current era of a team being enshrined forever.
“The THSCA is such a great organization and they have grown over the years in every aspect and one thing is the banquet like they had Saturday night to give honor and tribute to the ones who well deserve it,” Mobley said. “There are many coaches throughout Texas high school football over the years that deserve that, and T.J. is at the top of the list.”
Becky came away with the thought that anyone out there reading this right now, can get to the level that coach Mills got of his players.
“I think it makes everyone realize that with hard work and dedication you can be a Sealy Tiger state champion, we have many more of those and we’re going to put them on the Wall of Honor,” she said. “I know coach Mobley will do a great job taking them there and we’re ready for another state championship.”
At the end of the day, Becky wished that T.J. could have been there but reiterated in her speech that she knew her husband was “looking down on us with tears falling and a huge grin on his face.”