“I’m really him”: Jalen McMillan on becoming one of the best wide receivers in college football

  • Washington wide receiver Jalen McMillan sits down for an exclusive interview with PFF.
  • Half of one of the best duos in the nation: Both McMillan and his teammate Rome Odunze are among PFF’s top-10 wide receivers in college football heading into the 2023 season.
  • “We have the best offense in the country for sure”: Washington should be one of the most explosive offenses in the country with McMillan, Odunze and quarterback Michael Penix Jr. leading the way.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Jalen McMillan was frustrated.

It was the first game of his sophomore year at San Joaquin Memorial High School, and his Panthers had just dismantled Washington Union 47-14. McMillan finished with four catches for 46 yards in the blowout victory, a respectable performance, especially for a sophomore on varsity. However, he wasn’t satisfied.

“I didn’t get any type of love,” McMillan said in an exclusive interview with PFF. “I came into the next week really infuriated that I didn’t have any love.”

The next week against Lemoore, the fed-up sophomore decided that if he wasn’t going to receive any love, he’d take it himself. McMillan caught 12 passes for 369 yards and six touchdowns in a 53-46 win. 

“I really went off that game,” the Fresno, California native said. “After that, I was like ‘Yeah. I could probably play at the next level.’ Ever since then, I just took it and ran with it.”

It was those types of performances that made McMillan one of the top-10 wide receiver recruits in the 2020 class, with offers from every major program you can think of. Ultimately, it came down to a gut feeling.

“I was considering schools like Notre Dame, USC and Alabama,” he said. “Then, I visited Washington. One morning, I woke up with a weird, energetic feeling. It was a feeling I didn’t get with any other school. I felt like a higher power wanted me to come to this school.”

As a sophomore, McMillan led the Huskies with 470 receiving yards. However, Washington finished just 4-8 that season, its worst record in 13 years. Fresno State’s Kalen DeBoer was brought on as the new head coach following 2021, and his presence was immediately felt.

“Last offseason when Coach DeBoer finally came, that was when I realized I can actually play football for real and I’m really him,” McMillan said with a laugh. “The 2021 season, we weren’t really running those kinds of routes and it was a struggle for us. When we were put in a passing offense, Rome [Odunze] and I were like ‘Finally’.”

The scheme change worked wonders for both him and the Huskies. Washington bounced back with an 11-2 record thanks to the nation’s third-best offense in expected points added per play. McMillan was second in the Pac-12 in catches (79), third in yards (1,098) and tied for first in touchdowns (nine). He wasn’t the only Huskie who cracked 1,000 yards that season, joining Rome Odunze in that regard.

“Rome and I are tight,” McMillan said. “He’s a freak athlete. He can wake up at six in the morning, do a backflip out of bed and sprint to the stadium if he wanted to. There’s nothing he can’t do. I really believe he’s one of the best athletes in the country.”

Both Odunze and McMillan are among my top-10 receivers in college football heading into 2023, joining Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka as the only duos to crack the top 10. I also believe Washington has the third-best receiving corps in the country, though McMillan feels that’s too low.

“The work we put in and the stats that we produce, I truly believe there’s nobody else that can really top us,” he said.

While McMillan and Odunze would likely thrive with whoever is throwing them the ball, they do have the privilege of catching passes from Michael Penix Jr., one of the top-five quarterbacks in college football. Last season, Penix led the Power Five with 4,641 passing yards and his 1.3% turnover-worthy play rate was the fifth-lowest in the country.

“Mike and I are close,” McMillan said. “We have a goofy relationship. He’s a dope dude to be around. Before games, he’s a certain way that’s super interesting to me. He’ll put on a ski mask and I’ll look at him and be like, ‘Yeah, let me lock in real quick.’ He provides a certain aura within himself that tells you, ‘You need to be on your A-game because I’m on my A-game.’”

Between DeBoer drawing up plays, Penix slinging the rock and the duo of McMillan and Odunze catching it, Washington should have one of the premier offenses in college football heading into next season. For McMillan, there’s no question.

“We have the best offense in the country for sure,” he said. “We have so much more in the tank. Last year, we didn’t even scratch the surface. Our potential is unmatched. I feel like nothing can stop us. So, let’s roll.”

After an uber-productive 2022 season, McMillan could’ve started his professional career by entering the 2023 NFL Draft. However, he didn’t feel like he was done in Seattle just yet.

“I feel like I have so much more to prove,” McMillan said. “I have certain goals as well of being a high draft pick. Last year didn’t really fit with that. This year is the year for me.”

When asked what the college football world should expect from him in his senior campaign, McMillan put it bluntly.

“Expect me to be open a lot more.”

Does that mean another 370-yard, six-touchdown performance is in the cards?

“Shoot, I’m trying,” he said with a laugh.

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