Dedrick Mills believes in patience.
Without it, the former Nebraska running back might not be in the position he is today — a professional player for the Canadian Football League’s Calgary Stampeders.
Ending up in Canada was never the goal for Mills; an NFL roster spot was what he’d been working toward his entire life. After wrapping up his college career with Nebraska in 2021, Mills got his shot as an undrafted free agent when he signed with the Detroit Lions.
Learning from veteran NFL backs such as D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams in training camp showed Mills how to be a professional. He dove into the team’s playbook, hoping to impress Detroit’s coaches — but when the Lions trimmed their roster to 53 players, Mills was left out.
That hurt. It left Mills wondering whether there was anything more he could have done to make the team.
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“That made me even more hungry to dig deep and get myself an opportunity,” Mills said.
After being cut by the Lions in September, things went quiet for Mills. He passed his days by keeping a consistent training regimen and staying in football shape, knowing that an opportunity would present itself eventually.
That chance came last May when Calgary signed Mills ahead of their rookie minicamp. This time around, Mills emerged from the preseason competition with a roster spot — proving his patience paid off.
“I’m somebody that’s very patient and waits my turn; that paid off because I coulda got itchy or antsy and rushed the process,” Mills said. “I let the process come to me, I waited my turn and when the opportunity came I took the most of it.”
Working as one of Calgary’s backup running backs, Mills impressed in the chances he got last season. Despite playing in just six games, Mills crossed the 100-yard mark three times — including a two-week stretch where he earned CFL top performer of the week honors twice in a row.
Mills ran 67 times for 459 yards and two touchdowns last season as Calgary made it to the playoffs. Now in the midst of his second preseason with the Stampeders, Mills is looking forward to taking on an even bigger role when Calgary’s season begins on June 8.
“Last year I had a pretty good season and this year I plan to do even more,” Mills said. “I enjoy and love playing with the guys I’m with; it’s a real family environment.”
Mills may not have found his way onto an NFL roster, but perhaps that’s for the best. Though he still texts his former running backs coach, Ryan Held, and a few teammates from time to time, Mills hasn’t been back to Nebraska since 2021. Due to his busy schedule, Mills hasn’t been home to Georgia much either.
But with a full football season ahead of him, Mills is right at home in Canada. This is what he’d worked for — even when it seemed far away at moments like when he left Georgia Tech in 2017 and spent two years at community college.
Two years at Nebraska put Mills back on the path to success. He did the rest, achieving his dreams of becoming a professional running back.
“I enjoy being out here (in Canada); there’s some real people out here, and I just love their attitudes that people wake up every day with a smile on their face,” Mills said. “This was the position I always wanted to be in — it was always a dream of mine and now that I’m here I’m taking full advantage of it.”