The day is one etched in Adrian Snow’s memory bank.
It was the summer of 2015 and Snow’s West Forsyth High School team was participating in an off-season seven-on-seven passing tournament at A.L. Brown High in Kannapolis. Working in the West Forsyth secondary was a freshman cornerback whose older brother, Jayshawn McMillian, was the Titans’ starting quarterback.
“I don’t remember who we were playing against, but I was talking to the coach of the other team and asked him to run something at this kid,” Snow said. “He was somebody we thought would be a pretty good player who we had seen in the Pop Warner leagues, and his brother played for us.
“Well, the first time they threw at him he picked off the pass. It made me realize even though this kid was a freshman that he was something special.”
The “kid” was Ja’Quan McMillian, who is now in his fourth season as a starter for the West Forsyth varsity. Rated as one of the state’s top secondary defenders, the 5-foot-10, 175-pounder made East Carolina his college choice on July 12 over an impressive list of scholarship offers that included Appalachian State, Charlotte, Duke, Louisville, North Carolina, South Carolina, Syracuse, Tennessee, Wake Forest and West Virginia.
McMillian immediately lived up to Snow’s initial assessment as a varsity rookie, making 63 tackles and seven interceptions for a West Forsyth team that finished 10-4 overall and reached the third round of the state 4-AA playoffs. The performance earned McMillian first-team All-Central Piedmont 4-A Conference honors and a berth on the Winston-Salem Journal’s All-Northwest team.
Those honors were repeated in 2016 and 2017 as McMillian earned a reputation as a big-play specialist. A prime example occurred during his sophomore campaign when McMillian broke through to block a field-goal attempt by Reagan High with 11 seconds to play, recovered it and ran for a touchdown to secure a 21-13 victory.
On the way to making 44 tackles, three interceptions and breaking up 15 passes as a junior, McMillian made a play that left an impression on Snow.
“We were playing against Mount Tabor and struggling a little against them,” Snow said. “They throw a little out route to his side. I had talked to their coach before the game and he said he told his quarterback ‘don’t throw over there.’ But he did and Ja’Quan picked it off and took it in for a touchdown. We finished things off after that.”
In additions to his duties on defense, McMillian is being used at quarterback, receiver and as a kick returner as a senior with the Titans. In a season-opening 26-7 triumph against Lake Norman, McMillian had kickoff returns of 65 and 60 yards to contribute to the victory.
But the Pirates have recruited McMillian to play in the secondary where he has recorded 19 interceptions in his first three prep seasons.
“He has great ball skills and understands how to play the game,” Snow said. “East Carolina did a good job recruiting him and he feels good about them. He felt like it was right to pull the trigger (on commitment) and get it done.
“I think he’s going to enroll early (at ECU) and that will help him physically. He probably needs to get stronger, but when it comes to understanding the game and how to play the game, he’s good at it. To be honest, he’s probably the best defensive back we’ve ever had. He can play and he’s a great teammate.”
McMillian is one of four cornerback prospects committed to the ECU’s recruiting Class of 2019 along with Taylor Harris from Woodbridge, VA, and Malik Flemming and Juan Powell, both from Atlanta.