For Makhaila Mills, It Was Always Southern California

Makhaila Mills was willing to start over if it didn't feel right. 

That's the kind of confidence the 2019 FHSAA Class 3A 100m champion had in the University of Southern California from the very jump. 

And perhaps that faith showed just what kind of pull the Trojans had on the Creekside High School senior, that she made USC her No. 1 early on and stuck with that bet throughout the recruiting process. 

"We didn't really have any other schools that were as high on my list as USC," Mills said recently. "It was my only big choice, and if that wouldn't have worked, I would have started it over again." 

Recently, Mills, the No. 29 recruit in MileSplit's ranking of the top 50 athletes in the Class of 2021, signed with the Trojans. She briefly also considered South Carolina. 

"The coaches for sure, they were different than other coaches," Mills said of Southern California. "I got a better vibe from them. We just seemed to connect better." 

In choosing USC, Mills credited her rapport with USC's Director of Track and Field, Caryl Smith Gilbert, and assistant coaches like Quincy Watts. 

But also just as important, she said, was the insight she was given from Trojans junior Twanisha Terry while Mills was sorting through the pros and cons. 

Terry, a 2017 Miami Northwestern High School graduate, was uniquely aware of the life-changing move from Florida to Southern California, and so the talented Trojans sprinter, a Pac-12 sprint champion and NCAA All-American, was an important influence. 

"TT was very inspirational and her being a guide just made me realize their team is so inviting," Mills said. "She was so welcoming to me and treated me like I was one of the girls." 

Throughout the recruitment process, she said, there were Zoom meetings, phone calls and check-ups from coaches and athletes. Mills and her family even traveled out to Los Angeles so she could see the campus and tour the area unofficially. 

"I fell in love," she said. 

Mills says she hopes to major in human biology, and has pointed toward an eventual career in dermatology.

Mills is joining a USC class that already includes two other top 50 recruits, Jalaysiya Smith and Kenondra Davis, and follows a stacked lineup of athletes that have signed with USC in recent seasons: Kimberly Harris, Jasmine Jones, Markalah Hart and Jan'Taijah Ford, among others.

In recent years, the Trojans have built stacked lineups in the women's relays and have often competed for national championships. That's something Mills said she would ultimately love to be a part of. 

"As a freshman, I hope to do the best that I can," she said. "Of course, I want to be up there." 

* Mills' 100m race at the 2019 FHSAA Class 3A Outdoor Track and Field Championships

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That competition won't faze Mills, though.

"At the beginning of the process, I had to decide if I wanted to go somewhere I wanted to be the best right away, in the middle or at the bottom and being pushed really hard," she said. "Looking at USC, they're really good, and I think I can be there, too. Their recovery systems and everything they provide, the athletes around me -- who have somewhat similar times to me -- I think we can get along well and push each other." 

As a sophomore, Mills posted a 100m wind-legal best of 11.56 seconds in the preliminaries of New Balance Nationals Outdoor, then finished fifth overall in the finals with a time of 11.67. In all, she posted five wind-legal marks under 11.8 on the season. 

While she only broke 24 seconds twice in the 200m, Mills broke 24.25 three more times. 

Traditionally a late starter in outdoor track and field -- Mills says she often opens closer to late March or April -- the Creekside senior only had one outdoor performance as a junior. She ran 11.75 in the 100m at the Bolles Bulldog Classic. 

Mills, however, has set high goals for the 2021 season. She says she "would like to be low-11s and low 23s" in the 200m. 

More than anything, though, the Florida athlete wants to continue to compete. 

"I'm not sure how COVID has affected me, but I have been training continuously," she said. "I feel like I've gotten stronger and I feel like my starts are better. I'm perfecting the rest of my race.