Stampeders running back Dedrick Mills driven by tragic deaths of best friend and cousin

Running back dedicates CFL season to victim of car crash, which also took his cousin’s life

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Dedrick Mills doesn’t usually make bold football predictions.

But the Calgary Stampeders running back is making an exception this CFL season, prompted by the heavy heart he wears after his best friend and cousin died tragically in a car crash only a handful of weeks back.

“I am aiming for 1,500 yards,” said Mills, in the lead-up to Saturday’s home game for the Stampeders (1-1) against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (0-3) at McMahon Stadium (5 p.m., TSN, QR Calgary).

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“My best friend, Ronnie, died before I came back to Calgary this year,” continued Mills, his voice filled with emotion. “He’s like my closest friend. So his favourite number was 15. And I just dedicated this season to him — told myself I was gonna try to rush for 1,500 yards.”

Ronnie Adams and Mills’ cousin, RJ Merritt, were back-seat passengers in a vehicle that crashed on a back road in Ware County, Georgia.

They were returning home from a party in a neighbouring county, when the driver of lost control on a winding road. The vehicle hit a pole, and both Adams and Merritt were ejected.

Mills said high speed contributed to the tragedy and neither victim was wearing a seatbelt.

“I got the phone call when I was in Arizona at five o’clock in the morning, and they told me he was dead,” Mills said. “My cousin died first — right on impact. But my best friend was fighting for his life for 30 to 40 minutes, just bleeding on the inside.

“The way my other friends explained it — and they were actually there and seen the whole thing — it was terrible. It hurt me for them.

“It tore me up. I couldn’t believe it at first until I got home. And when I flew back home and got around the family and stuff, it hit home.”

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The funerals were held in the days before Mills left to rejoin the Stamps for the 2024 season.

“That kind of broke me down and tore me up for a little bit,” continued Mills. “But as long as I’ve got football, it always distracts from a lot of that stuff. So I kind of ignore it now, but I still think about it.

“And everything kind of lined up to me that, ‘OK, I’ve been wearing No. 26 and Ronnie was born on the 26th and he died when he was 26. And his favourite number was 15, so 1,500 yards.”

So far, so good for Mills.

At least he’s on his way to big numbers as the feature running back in the Stampeders’ attack.

Heading into Week 3 of the CFL campaign, the 27-year-old native of Waycross, Ga., topped the league in all-purpose yards, with 306. That was before the last week’s bye for the Stamps.

“I’ve been pretty productive for both games, catching the ball and running the ball,” he said.

Breaking it down, Mills has 133 yards on 24 carries, 118 yards on eight receptions and 55 yards on three kickoff returns.

And much of that came in a 26-17 loss to the host BC Lions on June 15. Mills hauled the ball 11 times for 46 yards and was the leading pass-catcher for the Stamps, with six receptions for 99 yards.

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“Don’t force it,” said Stamps GM/head coach Dave Dickenson, when talking of Mills’ season — the past, present and future. “He had a good game last game. He was a dual threat — both receiving and running. And pass-blocking, he did a nice job. It’s unfortunate there at the end that he had a fumble, but their guy (Jordan Perryman) forced it.

“But don’t dwell on that. Just keep being yourself and keep improving and keep running downhill on people.”

With the Stamps’ off-season decision to part ways with Ka’Deem Carey, the early performance of the 5-foot-10, 227-lb. Mills seemed necessary.

And continued improvement? That’s a must, to boot.

“I mean … I was sad, because Ka’Deem was like a big brother to me,” Mills said. “But at the same time, everybody’s trying to compete for the starting job. So, you know, I was excited to get the job, but I was sad to see my boy go.

“I just had to tighten up on little things — off-the-field things — and coming into the meeting room and being more productive and being more of a leader to the younger guys,” added the third-year CFL threat. “I wanted to just show them the right way to go.

“I had a few minor mistakes my first two years here. I was being late. So I made it a priority this year not to be late ever again. I want to be that guy people can trust — on and off the field — no matter what.”

SHORT YARDAGE

DL Kwadwo Boahen (back) didn’t practise Tuesday or Wednesday for the Stampeders … Both DB Bentlee Sanders (shoulder) and DL Kelon Thomas were limited in practice both days for the Red and White … On Tuesday, the Stamps released two Americans — QB Kyle Vantrease and DL Toby Ndukwe.

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