Mark McMillian knows what it’s like to work hard and prove the naysayers wrong.
The former NFL cornerback was cut from playing football before he was even 10 years old because he was too short and didn’t weigh enough. Although his size constantly came up as a concern, the Los Angeles native started playing football his senior year of high school. After a short time at junior college, he continued to the University of Alabama, where he started for two seasons and broke a school record for a 98-yard interception return. After college, he had his sights set on the NFL.
“I knew I was going to be an NFL player,” he said in an Al.com article. “If you’re going to accomplish anything, you’ve got to have belief in yourself before anything. If you don’t believe in yourself, then you’re behind the 8-ball already.”
After college, he was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles with the 272nd overall pick in the 10th round of the 1992 NFL Draft. He spent four years with the Philadelphia Eagles, during which time fans started calling him “Mighty Mouse”. After Philly, he went to the Kansas City Chiefs for two seasons. He also briefly played for the New Orleans Saints, San Francisco 49ers, and Washington Redskins, before retiring in 1999.
McMillian has always enjoyed tasty BBQ, since his uncles grilled it up every Sunday for family gatherings in the 1970s in South Central Los Angeles. He started to grill for himself in the late 1990s, and said he got particularly into it right before and during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Me and my buddies would grill every day,” he said. “We were making our own spices, mixing and matching seasonings, trying it out on every vegetable and meat.”
When he first started getting more serious about BBQ, he found that a lot of people doubted him, from friends to his followers on social media.
“I got all kinds of flack about BBQ when I first started,” he says. But, like football, the naysayers only made him try harder.
He posted more and more of his creations on social media and launched his website Grill’n McMillian. Soon after, he got the attention of the Gordon Ramsay’s Next Level Chef. When they first approached him about applying to be on the show, he said he thought someone was playing a prank on him. But his creations and culinary expertise made him stand out from thousands of applicants, and he will be one of the contestants in the second season, which airs Feb. 12 on Fox, following the Super Bowl.
“It’s going to be exciting,” he says. “It’s going to be flames, flying, and throwing.”
Besides being on the new season, McMillian is one of the Las Vegas Raiders Pregame Live NFL Analysts. He enjoys spending time with his family, especially his two granddaughters, and is also involved in nonprofit work to help improve the lives of children and adults. One notable organization is the Pennsylvania-based Lift Program, which supports kids who have been harassed and bullied. One way the program does this is by hosting summer camps and BBQs, as well as raising money for school supplies and other student needs.
“We love to support the kids and the parents,” he says. “Plus, we make it fun, BBQing meals for them. Some of my NFL teammates will be joining this summer, and we’re also happy that Bear Mountain will be involved.”
McMillian joined the Bear Mountain ambassador team in February after hearing about the company from a follower on his social media.
“I’m honored to be a part of the Bear Mountain BBQ team. I love Bear Mountain’s variety of products and the ethos of the amazing company,” he says. “It’s just the perfect fit.”
Just like when he was young, gathering with his family around the grill, McMillian loves BBQ today because it brings people together.
“There are lots of things right now in this world that are dividing us, but food allows us to talk and enjoy something together,” he says. “When I’m grilling, I know that everyone is going to be in good spirits, enjoying food and life. We’re not here for long, so we want to make a positive impact while we can, and I like doing that through good food and BBQ.”