Tim Walsh already knew Johnny Millard was a fast healer. Fast is one thing, but Millard hardly felt his latest injury.
In the first half of Saturday’s 24-22 victory at Wyoming, the Cal Poly football team’s junior outside linebacker took a cut block on a run play and suffered a minor tear of the medial collateral ligament in his knee.
Walsh, the fourth-year Mustangs head coach, didn’t find out about it right away because Millard didn’t summon any trainers. Play was never even stopped.
“I actually played three plays continuing after that,” Millard said Tuesday after reviewing the game tape, “and you couldn’t really tell I was hurt on the film.
“I didn’t think it was anything huge.”
Even after he performed well on agility tests on the sideline, the decision was made to hold Millard out for the second half of Cal Poly’s landmark victory over the Cowboys (0-3), the first FBS upset for the Mustangs (2-0) under Walsh. He paced the sideline in street clothes worrying more about the remaining schedule than any pain.
“I was a little emotional,” Millard said. “It was a scary moment, and anything in football with your knees is a scary moment. The best thing about that is my teammates picked me up.”
But with a knee sprain that might normally keep athletes off the field for up to a month, there’s a chance Millard might be back in uniform for Saturday’s Horeshoe Classic against visiting Big Sky Conference arch rival UC Davis.
“Right now, I’m taking it day by day,” said Millard, who has yet to practice but could rejoin the team as soon as Thursday. “I got a brace being made and I could be on the practice field with that. If I can be 90 percent at the least, I’ll probably go. If I miss a game, it would be one game and I could be full go the next week.
“It would kill me not playing this game because it’s Davis. But we have nine games left this season and hopefully playoffs after that.”
Millard suffered a similar MCL sprain in the eighth game last season, a 27-24 victory over South Dakota. That’s how Walsh learned not to underestimate the healing powers of the 6-foot-3, 231-pound former Pleasanton Foothill High standout.
Despite being hurt, Millard played the final three games of the season, losses to the Aggies, Eastern Washington and a victory at South Alabama, and finished the year with a team-high 82 tackles.
Millard had five tackles, an interception and two quarterback hurries in a 41-14 season-opening victory over San Diego this season but added only one more stop before getting hurt against Wyoming.
His absence allowed for the emergence of Wisconsin transfer Cameron Ontko, who had nine tackles in relief against Wyoming, including eight solo stops, and now ranks as the fourth-leading tackler on the team after two games.
“I feel like there’s a lot of room for improvement,” said Ontko, who played in three games as a redshirt freshman for the Badgers last season. “I’m not just looking at the stats. I’ve got to get better this week. There was a couple plays where I’ve got to get better.”
The 5-11, 220-pound Ontko, an Ohio native, is now dealing with a minor hip injury of his own, but he practiced Tuesday, should be able to play and has proven he can contribute.
“Seeing Johnny go down,” Ontko said, “that was tough, but I knew I had to step up. It was a big responsibility, and I was ready to go. I had my mind right. I was ready to play the whole game. I’m just glad we got the win.”