Dustin “Dusty” Mills, a senior at Tug Valley, has spent the majority of his life on the football field. From age five, he has been playing the game and sharpening his skills. Mills was a fundamental factor in the Panthers’ path to the semi-finals last season.
September 30, Mills was involved in a car accident that severely impacted his football career.
“I don’t remember any of the wreck, or the hours before that. All I recall from that day is giving blood at the blood drive. The lady behind me [at the time of the accident] said I hydroplaned, lost control of the car and hit the guard rail,” said Mills.
Mills was driving a 1998 Corvette when his vehicle collided with the guardrail and a GMC Sierra struck him on the driver’s side.
“I fractured my C2 vertebrae and three ribs. I have to wear a neck brace for 8-12 weeks,” said Mills.
The injuries eliminated any chance for Mills to finish the Panthers’ 2015 season. While such news is devastating to a young man who has devoted much of his life to the sport, he has an inspiring outlook on the situation.
“Obviously, to have an injury that has been the cause of so many deaths, God’s power is evident. This accident has opened my eyes to how short and fragile life is. As much as we’d like to imagine we’re immortal, we’re not,” Mills said.
Mills was an integral part of the Panther’s successful playoff run to the semi-finals. He was a first team Class A All-State lineman last season as well as a pre-season all-state pick this year. Changing gears from line to side-line hasn’t been an easy transition.
“It was extremely difficult when the realization hit that I wouldn’t be able to put that black helmet and that ‘79’ jersey on again. The first game I got to attend after the accident was hard to say the least; I couldn’t count the amount of times I almost jogged onto the field. As hard as that was, I came to the realization that God protected me from an accident that could have easily ended my life and an injury that has killed and paralyzed many,” said Mills.
Though 79 wasn’t able to finish out the season the way he may have planned, he has been a huge part of the game. His teammates have all placed his number on the back of their helmets, making sure he is on the field with them through it all.
“The support is indescribable. I can’t explain the love I have for the people here, especially my teammates and coaches. It means so much that this community honors me in the way they do. You’ll never find more love than in the community in which I reside. My football family makes sure I’m a part of them. I can’t thank them enough for that. I love them all,” Mills said.
Mills credits the accident for helping his spiritual growth. As a Christian, Mills often considered how he would react in a situation like his. Now that he has lived it, he can better comprehend the power of faith.
“It’s easy to imagine you’ll have faith in times of trial, but when you’re in the middle of it things change a little,” he said.
The Panthers have battled their final game of the season, but will soon enter into the playoffs. Moving forward, Mills hopes to see his team “keep the brotherhood.” He knows that winning and football are temporary but the brotherhood formed on the team is what lasts. He encourages the Panthers to “Play for something more than yourself. Play for the guy next to you. And represent God on the field.”
This story was originally written for and featured in the Mingo Messenger.