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From the Pitch to the Gridiron: Former Soccer Star Keith Millard Recounts His Switch to Football

Welcome to Why We Play, a series of discussions with current players and NFL Legends about their youth football experience and why they play the game.

Believe it or not, first-round NFL Draft pick and two-time NFL All-Pro defensive tackle Keith Millard didn’t play football until he was a junior in high school.

"I was a soccer player," Millard said. "I played youth soccer from second grade all the way up until my junior year."

Although Millard was an All-Star in soccer, he always wanted to play football. But his mother didn’t want him to play.

"I went round and round with her, and it just wasn’t worth it, so I just played soccer," Millard said. 

But eventually, Millard got his wish — thanks in part to the insistence of his high school friend, fellow future NFL player Rich Moran.

"Moran wouldn’t let up, so I just went out and played," Millard said. "I was behind, for sure. But the one thing I could do was catch a football. I always could, even just playing in the backyard.

Millard played tight end at Foot Hills High in Pleasanton, California.

“The (high school) coaches didn’t love me. I was a long-haired soccer player. They made me earn it. If was there eight guys in line at tight end, I was eighth. But I could catch better than any of them and eventually it stood out."

After graduating, Millard went on to Washington State University. 

“We had an All American tight end, (future Indianapolis Colt) Pat Beach," Millard said. "We ran a veer offense. So I thought, if I was just going to block, I may as well switch to defense."

Millard moved to defensive line and his college career really took off. In 1985, he was drafted 13th overall by the Minnesota Vikings.

Millard spent six seasons in Minnesota, earning Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors in 1988 and 1989. He finished his career with stints in Green Bay, Seattle, and Philadelphia before retiring after the 1993 season. 

After his playing days ended, Millard began his career as a coach. He started on the high school level in Cave Creek, Arizona.

"I loved working with the kids in Cave Creek," Millard said. "I got the coaching bug from that."

Millard moved on to coach Division III, in spring football leagues, in the XFL, and finally as an NFL assistant from 2001-2012, for the Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Tennessee Titans.

After he retired from the NFL coaching life, he went and coached his sons at a level he never played — Pop Warner.

“You want to make it fun — learn how to play the game correctly, keep it safe, and have fun," he said. "Enjoy your teammates, enjoy the brotherhood of playing the game, and all the little things that go with it.

"Work ethic and commitment are good teachers. Football is a team sport, and kids need that. Too many kids these days are spending too much time in their bedroom pushing buttons, and they miss out on that."

Photo: AP/Paul Battaglia


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