Born For This: McCabe Millon Embraces Family's Legacy

McCabe Millon accelerated past the defender with one step. Then he split through a double team and scored on a bounce shot before the goalie had a chance to get back in the cage.

The goal came during the waning seconds of the Project Nine combine, an immersive training experience for the nation’s elite lacrosse prospects. Millon sealed the win for his team, coached by former pro goalie Scott Rodgers and current Archers attackman Grant Ament.

“I said don’t go to the goal if it isn’t there, but…” Ament, the 2021 Premier Lacrosse League Attackman of the Year, said with a chuckle while standing on the sideline of Tierney Field in Sparks, Maryland.

Millon’s game possesses an element of surprise, not just because it’s almost impossible to tell if he’s a natural righty or lefty. He processes plays with the speed of a supercomputer. Where others see obstacles, he spots opportunities. “When he has the ball, expect the ball,” Rodgers cautioned after someone dropped a pinpoint no-look pass by Millon.

All of Millon’s plays on that Monday morning in October, from underhanded feeds to lightning-quick question mark dodges, occurred in the shadow of USA Lacrosse’s headquarters. The brick building houses the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame and Museum. An arrangement of U.S. national team jerseys figure prominently on one of the walls. At the center hangs a No. 9 jersey with a patch from the 1998 men’s world championship held in Baltimore. “Donated by Mark Millon,” reads the inscription underneath. In a picture within an adjoining display, Erin Brown Millon celebrates with the U.S. women’s national team after winning gold at the 2001 World Cup in England.

The couple’s Hall of Fame plaques hang less than two feet apart on the adjacent wall. They’re still the only husband-wife tandem enshrined.

“It’s no secret who his parents are,” Ament said. "He has a bigger target on his back than I'll ever have, but he embraces and handles it with such class.”

The older of the Millons’ two sons understands the increased spotlight given his parents’ achievements. “Whoa you’re Mark Millon’s son, that’s so cool,” he remembers fellow attendees at his father’s well-known lacrosse camps telling him. At the same time, he hasn’t tried to hide from his last name. Instead, he’s distinguished himself through his own play.

In 2019, Millon captained the USA Select U15 team and was the top scorer on a squad that went undefeated during the Brogden Cup. He quarterbacked the McDonogh School offense as a sophomore last spring and earned All-Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association honors after pacing the team in points. A two-time Maverik Showtime All-Star, this fall Millon was named Inside Lacrosse’s No. 1 overall recruit in the class of 2023. After a frenzied September that featured seven recruiting campus visits along with countless calls, Zooms and texts, he verbally committed to Duke on Oct. 4.

The decision felt more like an inflection point than an apex.  “I don’t want to be remembered [only] for being the No. 1-ranked junior,” Millon said, after using words like “grateful” and “humbled” to describe the distinction. “I want to be remembered for doing a lot more in the sport.”

“The guys that are going to be successful at the next level or be at the Tewaaraton ceremony are the guys that work the hardest,” Mark Millon said before the awards presentation at Project Nine, the camp he founded in 2011 with Paul Rabil. “Check yourselves and keep trying to get better. The sky’s the limit. You're not finished products.”

McCabe Millon nodded. He had heard the words before.

“He's earned everything.”

— Mark Millon

FOUR CAMERAS FOLLOWED MILLON every time he touched the ball during the final session of Project Nine. That’s not including the GoPro he wore affixed to the top of his chrome orange McDonogh helmet. The accompanying five-minute video shot from Millon’s perspective and produced by lacrosse manufacturer East Coast Dyes has accrued more than 135,000 views and more than 120 comments on YouTube. They range from praise for Millon to pronouncements that Konrad Miklaszewski, who shadowed him most of the scrimmage, should be the No. 1 recruit. “The most overrated player in lacrosse history,” one says.

“Social media,” Rabil replied without hesitation when asked about the biggest difference between being a top recruit almost 20 years ago versus today. "But outside of that, nothing because most of the pressure for the best players in the world comes from inside."

Millon admitted that the phenomenon of playing in front of a phalanx of cameras — he started noticing them on the sidelines when he was in eighth grade — never completely becomes normal. “It comes with the territory,” Ament has told him. “Pressure is definitely a compliment. It's not necessarily a burden.”

Before games, Millon used to sit in the corner of the locker room with headphones on, shutting out everything and everyone else. More recently, he’s found he plays his best when he’s relaxed and loose. When he lets it all in. When he’s having fun. “Just go out and play your game,” his dad will tell him.

“If I’m beating you at your best, that’s something I can be really happy with,” McCabe Millon said.

That competitiveness was honed at home. Family tennis matches with his parents and his younger brother Brendan, a freshman at McDonogh, start out friendly enough. “Next thing you know, you're sliding all over the place like you’re Roger Federer and are trying to make slice shots,” he said.

Still, the games were rooted in fun. The Millons have always prioritized a healthy and active lifestyle. McCabe and Brendan played everything growing up from baseball to basketball to soccer to golf. During the cold snap this January, they tried out pond hockey.

Unlike many in the Maryland area, the famous lacrosse family initially held back from signing up McCabe for organized play. “We knew there was going to be a lot of lacrosse eventually in his life because it was such a big part of what Mark and I were doing individually,” said Erin Brown Millon, who founded a holistic coaching and mentoring program called The Balanced Athlete Project. “We didn’t feel the need to rush it.”

McCabe Millon’s passion for the game was apparent from the start. “I feel like if a parent played, someone might feel forced into playing or like they have to live up to something,” he said. “I really never had that and fell in love with lacrosse on my own.”

After Millon broke his left hand in his first tournament last summer, he’d watch hours of game film every day. He studied Virginia’s Connor Shellenberger on YouTube and VHS tapes of his dad’s MLL and world championships.

Seven days a week in the family’s basement gym across from shelves filled with awards from his parents’ playing careers, Millon performed single-leg squats and other lower-body exercises while wearing an adjustable weighted vest he could load up to 60 pounds. He thinks all the extra work improved his explosiveness and helped him see the game in a new light.

“People want to speculate that McCabe was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and he had this easy path with his mom and dad,” Mark Millon said. “He’s earned everything that he’s got.”

MCCABE MILLON’S FAVORITE PAIR OF CLEATS ARE WARRIOR BURNS that came out when he was 4. There are boxes of them laying in the closet from when his dad worked for the brand. He started wearing them once he filled out his dad's size 9 ½s. He donned a white and blue set at Project Nine and has a new all-white pair ready for this spring. “They don’t make things like they used to,” Mark Millon said.

Maybe they do. Mark described McCabe’s skillset as a “bit of a throwback.” He can attack from all over the field. He can tailor his game to best complement his teammates. At Project Nine you could hear him breathing heavily every time he rode. In an era of hyper specialization, he wants not just to be great but to become a complete player.

Millon earned a 4.2 GPA this past semester despite missing seven school days early in September for recruiting trips. His favorite movies are “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Caddyshack.” His top five greatest lacrosse players of all-time (his dad holds the No. 1 spot) have all retired. His bedroom walls feature posters of Jordan and Kobe, not LeBron or Giannis.

On the wall opposite from his bed hangs his dad’s framed No. 9 Baltimore Bayhawks jersey.

Mark Millon, who grew up on Long Island and whose first love was baseball, started wearing the number in honor of Graig Nettles — the Yankees’ third baseman from the 1970s who had a flair for the dramatic while fielding. McCabe Millon inherited his father’s love for the Bronx Bombers and the New York Rangers. He’s also worn the No. 9 whenever possible. He’ll continue the tradition at Duke.

“He fell in love with the number too,” Mark Millon said. “It’s not just a tribute to dad.”

To McCabe, the digit carries more weight. It signifies the relationship he and his father have built through the sport. McCabe can ask Mark at any hour to help work on aspects of his game in the family’s driveway. The bond deepened over the years during the long car rides to and from tournaments throughout the Mid-Atlantic. They’d talk about lacrosse but also life. Sometimes, they’d stage impromptu Billy Joel concerts.

“Lacrosse has provided the opportunity to continue my father’s legacy, build our relationship and just get to spend time together,” McCabe Millon said.

This winter Millon got the Roman numerals IX tattooed on his right side around his ribcage. He posted a picture of himself at Bullet’s Ink in Mount Airy (Md.) to his Instagram Stories, but not the final result. His dad thought that might be too personal to share. “Oh, he’s getting it on the toughest spot,” Rodgers, no stranger to ink, texted Mark. “I’ve seen grown men cry in that spot.”

McCabe did not, even when it felt like his entire rib cage was vibrating throughout the two-hour long process. “He’s got the Long Island blood,” Mark said. “He’s tough. You should have seen him.”

You can hear the pride in his voice.

MCCABE, BRENDAN AND MARK MILLON STOOD TRIANGULATED on a patch of turf inside the Baltimore Convention Center. A crowd of close to 100 coaches sat in the metal bleachers, taking detailed notes and holding their iPhones aloft to record the Millons' USA Lacrosse Convention session on developing youth players.

“Ah, these guys are nervous,” Mark joked after McCabe, wearing a long-sleeve blue Duke lacrosse shirt, dropped a pass.

It was a rare hiccup. The elements of the game Mark Millon detailed and distilled down to their most basic form seemed so engrained his sons could perform them in their sleep. There was no wasted motion, or “hand action” as he likes to call it. The son of teachers, he believes the best coaches fit that mold. He turned 50 last year, but still performed around-the-world and behind-the-back passes like a world championship was on the line.

McCabe Millon likes to say his game stems from his dad. Even their strides and the way they protect their sticks move in lock step. Though Ament often hears from friends around the Baltimore area “that McCabe Millon kid plays a lot like you,” he’ll text Mark Millon clips of McCabe accompanied by a similar refrain. “I've watched the YouTube highlight of you doing that thousands of times.”

“If there’s one difference, I think he's way more athletic than Mark was this early,” Ament added. “Erin may have helped him out a bit in the athletic gene combination.”

The moment the demo concluded, McCabe unleashed a shot that tattooed the top left corner. The “ping” rang throughout the convention center. He flashed a sheepish smile.

A cluster of attendees then lingered to ask Mark follow-up questions. A few made a beeline to McCabe. Most looked like they were in grade school. Some needed a gentle nudge from their dads to ask for his autograph and a picture. It was the first time, McCabe said, that’s happened. “It was nice to meet you, Jackson,” he told one young fan after shaking his hand. The Millons later snapped a picture of their own on the turf. In the photo, McCabe and Brendan each edge taller than their father by an inch or two.

Something else, however, stands out.

Underneath the stark fluorescent lights, it’s impossible to see any shadows.

Get the best and latest from delivered weekly straight to your inbox: