Barely two weeks after hurdling to two state championships at the FHSAA 1A track and field meet in Gainesville, Port St. Joe’s Darian Mills signed a scholarship with Thomas University of Thomasville, Georgia, on Thursday, May 26.
Thomas University is part of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), and competes in the Sun Conference as the Night Hawks.
Mills, who won back-to-back championships in the 110-meter hurdles event in 2021 and 2022, also captured gold in the 300-meter hurdles this year.
He becomes the second track recruit signed by former Port St. Joe coach Scott Gowan, recently named as Thomas University’s cross country and track and field head coach. Gowan had earlier signed sprinter Michael Eady of Lowndes County High School.
Gowan, who took his first job at Port St. Joe in 1986 after graduating from Florida State University, enjoyed tremendous success as cross country and track coach, winning six consecutive state championships in track from 1994-99 before moving to Chiles High School in Tallahassee.
While there, his teams won another 11 state championships. Before his retirement from high school, Gowan received induction into the FHSAA Hall of Fame, Class of 2021.
One of his athletes on those Port St. Joe championship teams is Mills’ present-day Tiger Shark coach, Keion McNair.
Transferring from Blountstown High School his junior year, Mills played basketball and ran track as a Tiger Shark while maintaining a 3.46 grade point average, despite having to drive the hour-long commute between the two towns.
Mills credited McNair for instilling in him the belief that he could win a state championship, and his teammates for welcoming him with open arms.
“I didn’t know what I was getting myself into (transferring to Port St. Joe),” said Mills.
But teammates like Maddie Gortemoller and D.J. Oliver immediately made him feel welcome, and “Keion told me I was going to win a state championship,” he said.
Defending his first state championship did not come easy. On July 26, 2021, Mills sat in McNair’s passenger seat when a van rammed the back of their car as they sat in stalled traffic on I-295 in Jacksonville during a Junior Olympics meet. (See Sept. 9, 2021 Star.)
After going through the protocols for a concussion, and therapy for ligament damage to his neck, Mills sustained another injury during basketball season, but overcame all of those “hurdles” to defend his title by running the third fastest time in the entire state, regardless of classification.
Described by teachers, coaches, and teammates as humble, Mills flashed his customary infectious grin and thanked everyone who contributed to his success as he signed his scholarship papers with his aunt Marsha, sister Dadriana Peterson, and mother Martine looking on.
Finishing his high school career with a flourish, Mills ranked as the number two runner in the state of Florida, and number 18 in the nation.
Gowan predicted that he would be returning to Port St. Joe to sign more athletes in the future.