To land an elite quarterback recruit, it typically takes several months, if not multiple years, of recruiting efforts before getting a signature on a letter of intent.
For Nevada, it only took a couple of weeks to land Clay Millen, a four-star prospect and one of the top-rated quarterbacks in the 2021 recruiting class.
Thanks to the development of Carson Strong, some strong connections and fortuitous luck, the Wolf Pack was able to land Millen, who originally committed to Arizona last summer over offers from Oregon, Oregon State, Indiana, Colorado, UNLV and Florida Atlantic. The No. 13-ranked pro-style quarterback in the 2021 class, per 247Sports.com, stuck with the Wildcats until head coach Kevin Sumlin was fired after the season. When he didn't sign with Arizona during the early-signing period in December, the Wolf Pack's interest was piqued.
Nevada didn't really recruit Millen the first time around but couldn't pass up the opportunity when he was still available after the early signing period. The Wolf Pack coaches started texting Millen, and while an offer wasn't initially extended, the message was clear. They wanted Millen and were ready to add a second quarterback to their 2021 class if he wanted to commit. Millen, meanwhile, saw his offers from Oregon, Oregon State, Indiana and other schools disappear after the early-signing period.
"It's kind of unique," Millen said on Tuesday's NSN Daily. "With quarterback recruiting, most schools only take one quarterback per class, especially once you commit. Most of my offers, pretty much all my offers besides Colorado, up until signing day they got a guy committed. If they're only taking one guy, you can't go to that school anymore. By the end, I think Colorado was the only school taking two (quarterbacks). Once I didn't sign (with Arizona), Colorado and Nevada came into the picture."
Colorado was the only team to stick with Millen after he officially decommitted from Arizona three weeks after signing day, but it had to battle against Nevada, which was putting on the full-court press behind head coach Jay Norvell and offensive coordinator Matt Mumme, who helped develop lightly recruited Carson Strong into one of the nation's elite quarterbacks.
"Nevada and Colorado were my last two schools in there," Millen said. "Nevada worked really hard for me, and I just made a great connection with Coach Mumme and Coach Norvell and felt really good about it. I was excited to say I was committed, and I'm all in."
Millen won't step into a starting role at Nevada with Strong entering his junior season in 2021 as the reigning Mountain West offensive player of the year. But Strong's presence was a big plus for Millen, who believes he could excel in the Wolf Pack's offense as Strong's heir apparent.
"Seeing the year that Carson Strong had last year and all of the numbers he put up was pretty crazy," Millen said. "Thinking about the system they run, they run the Air Raid, and throw it 40 times per game on average. As a quarterback, why wouldn't you want to go play in that system? For me, that sounds like fun. I want to go throw the ball a lot and toss the ball around. Carson Strong's success last year, that really had a huge pull on my recruitment. Seeing what he could do in that system and at Nevada, that really pulled me to want to be part of that team. His success was huge in my decision."
The Wolf Pack already had one quarterback in its 2021 recruiting class, that being local player Drew Scolari of Bishop Manogue High, but Nevada was willing to offer Millen a blueshirt opportunity given his talent level. Blueshirting a player simply means taking a scholarship from next year's class, but Millen will still be eligible next season and could end up being Strong's backup in a battle that will include returners Nate Cox and Jake Barlage, two junior-college alums who were in their first year at Nevada last season.
Millen's father, Hugh, was a star at Washington before playing in the NFL from 1987-96. His college roommate was Jim Mora, whose father was the head colts of the Indianapolis Colts from 1998-2001 when Norvell was on his staff. The elder Mora spoke fondly of Norvell in conversations with the Millen family. A trip to Reno in late January sealed the deal for Millen.
"We took a family trip down there and checked out the college town," Millen said. "With COVID and everything, it's kind of tough to see the facilities and stuff, and you can't meet the coaches, which is kind of tough as a recruit when you go down there. You can't talk to the coaches in person. But we were calling all weekend and talking as much as we could. I went down there and checked it out as much as I could, and me and my family loved it. At Nevada, there's good people down there, and I really trust the coaching staff. I feel really good about it, and I just feel like it was the best place for me and the best decision to make for my life."
Millen is the No. 213 recruit in the 2021 class, per 247Sports, and the fifth-highest-rated prospect to ever commit to Nevada. Millen backed up his brother, Cale, in high school until last season (Cale has spent the last two seasons at Oregon and is currently in the transfer portal). Millen became the full-time starter at Mount Si High outside of Seattle in 2019 and threw for 3,145 yards with 39 touchdowns (34 passing, five rushing) and one interception as a junior. He's waiting to play his senior season as prep football in Washington was shifted from the fall to the spring due to the pandemic.
Millen said growing up with a dad who played in the NFL is a big benefit.
"From the beginning of him teaching us how to throw the football and teaching us the mental side of the game, not every kid is fortunate enough to have that," Millen said. "I'm just super blessed to have him and all the things he's done for us. He's been a great coach for us. He coaches us hard. He's not going to take it easy on us. If he thinks we're not playing that well, he's going to rip us. But he's just a great coach, and I'm super blessed to have him and fortunate for everything he's done for me and Cale."
At 6-foot-3 and 188 pounds, Millen has ideal size for a quarterback and is noted for his accuracy, which was in display during a 500-yard, six-touchdown, zero-interception performance in a playoff game against Chiawana High. Norvell, who is not allowed to publicly comment on Millen until he signs scholarship papers, has said Nevada looks for three things in its quarterbacks: accuracy, intelligence and competitiveness. Millen said he checks those boxes.
"It's kind of weird to talk about your own strengths, but some things I've heard from some people is I'm accurate and I think growing up in a football family I have a high football IQ and I think I can help lead the team," Millen said. "I'm super competitive. That's probably my biggest thing. I hate losing, and I think that really helps me play well on Friday night and helps give the rest of the team energy. Those are three big things about me."
Millen said one thing that excites him about playing at Nevada is the supporting cast he believes the Wolf Pack will offer. Norvell has shown a propensity for luring quality pass-catchers to the program, including potential pros in Romeo Doubs, Cole Turner and Elijah Cooks.
"Nevada, when they recruited me, they said they throw the ball 40 times a game," Millen said. "They'll always have weapons, they'll always attract receivers who will go get the ball and help in the passing game. When we talked ball, I could tell they had a bunch of studs as receivers who will help you. As a quarterback, I think that's one of the positions you rely on your teammates the most. Knowing at Nevada you're going to have some great receivers, guys who can get the ball and make plays for you, that was a huge attraction for me. I'm lucky to be with a group of guys who will ball out at receiver."
Millen said he is considering studying business or biology at Nevada and enjoys fishing and being outdoors, which makes Northern Nevada a good fit. He enjoyed his first visit to Reno, a place he plans on calling home for the next few years.
"It was a cool; it was great," Millen said. "We took a 40-minute trip down to Lake Tahoe and checked that out, too. In my area, we have a bunch of lakes and rivers and stuff. Pretty much every day in the summer I'm going out to the lakes and going to the river with my friends, so I think Lake Tahoe will be a pretty cool attraction. There have some rivers down there. I just think it's a super cool town. I like at night how it kind of stays lit up and gives you some life throughout the night. I think everything about it was cool."