Rylie Mills carves his own path on Lake Forest-Notre Dame trail

Mike Berardino
South Bend Tribune
Notre Dame defensive lineman Rylie Mills (99) sacks quarterback Drew Pyne (10) during the Notre Dame Blue-Gold Spring Football game on Saturday, April 23, 2022, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

SOUTH BEND — Before Rylie Mills became a fast-rising plan wrecker on Notre Dame’s defensive line, he offered a built-in excuse for Tommy Rees to use to his honorary parking spot at Lake Forest High School in Chicago’s north suburbs.

A decade before Mills turned himself into a four-star recruit as a strongside defensive end, Rees quarterbacked the Scouts to great acclaim on his way to Notre Dame. Now coordinating the Irish offense, Rees has carte blanche at his old high school – at least in the sprawling parking lot.

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“On the West campus there’s a parking spot that says ‘Tommy Rees,’ “ Mills said. “For a couple of years, I’ve been asking if I can get one, too. No one’s written back.”

Rees passed for more than 4,700 yards and 44 touchdowns in his final two prep seasons, including 526 yards and six TDs in a single game against Kenosha (Wis.) Bradford High as a senior, but Mills chuckled when asked where they keep the Rees statue at Lake Forest High.

Notre Dame defensive lineman Rylie Mills (99) during the Notre Dame Blue-Gold Spring Football game on Saturday, April 23, 2022, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

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“As far as I’ve seen they haven’t had a statue yet,” Mills said, “but I know they do have a little plaque on one of the walls that has coach Rees. If you’re all-state or a state champion, there’s a wall. There’s a lot of faces on that (wall) in the hallway.”

At 6-foot-5 and 283 pounds, Mills has become far more than just another face on a crowded defensive line. Exceptionally quick and coming off a three-sack sophomore season, including two sacks in the November win at Virginia, Mills got to know Rees well during the recruiting process.

Like Rees, Mills grew up in neighboring Lake Bluff, Ill., and made the short drive to attend Lake Forest High.

“During recruiting, he was always there,” Mills said. “He told me his experience going from Lake Forest to Notre Dame and the things he liked. I think that was important for me. It just told me what to expect. He did a good job being honest about it and just keeping it straight with me.”

Rob Pelinka, the Los Angeles Lakers general manager who had previous lives as a sports agent and standout guard at Michigan, might rank as Lake Forest’s top all-time sports product. But when it comes to football, Rees takes a back seat to no one.

“He’s had the best career so far,” Mills said. “That’s something I’m always chasing. We have a lot of kids that come out of there and do great things. It’s always fun to see people get what they work for.”

Mike Berardino covers Notre Dame football for the South Bend Tribune and Follow him on Twitter @MikeBerardino.