‘Raised on Rocky Top,’ The Johnny Mills stories

Published 3:52 pm Friday, January 13, 2023

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As the community pays tribute to the memory of Johnny Mills this weekend, a new book will share his stories.
Mills, a record-setting athlete at Elizabethton High School and the University of Tennessee, was beloved in his hometown of Elizabethton. He died Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022, and a memorial service honoring his life will be held Sunday at Elizabethton High School.
On Monday, the book “Raised on Rocky Top,” goes on sale at Eagles Center Co-Op.
Mills began working on the collection of stories in early 2020. They share insights into his life, from his teen years in Elizabethton to his days as a Volunteer standout at UT.
In January 1967, the city of Elizabethton declared January 16 as Johnny Mills Day.  A huge parade was held, Tennessee football coach Doug Dickey attended, and Mills was given the key to the city. Mills was awarded for his outstanding football play at Elizabethton High School and the University of Tennessee, where he set records that stood for 36 years.
This Monday, Jan. 16, the book “Raised on Rocky Top” will go on sale at Eagles Center Co-op in Elizabethton, a tribute to a true VFL Legend.  Mills wrote all the stories, a collection he started working on in early 2020, and Charles Peters helped compile them into a book.
“I met with Johnny back around June of 2020, just after he had started putting the stories on Facebook,” said Peters. “We talked and I told him what a good book that would make, and that I was saving the stories. He said, ‘We’ll talk about it.’
“A few months later, he had written about 30 stories and sent some photos. I comprised them in a book form and took them to him. He really liked the book and especially the photo on the front of the book of him and his grandson sitting in his favorite chair watching the Tennessee Vols football game. He told me he wasn’t through writing yet and to keep on with what I was doing.
“Over the years, I just kept the stories until he quit writing, nearly three years later.”
Peters said Mills was “one of our greatest legends.”
“He lived a life like we all want to,” Peters said. “I believe Johnny lived every day like it was his last, and enjoyed every minute he had. In the book, you can read about his adventures, trips across America, and fishing in the great Yellowstone National Park. Former Tennessee and Washington Redskins Eddie Brown said Mills was like a tour guide when you went to Yellowstone, he had been there so many times.
Peters shared one of his favorite stories in which Mills describes the atmosphere of game day against the University of Alabama. “It is kind of quiet in the dressing room as everybody gets their ankles taped. Everybody is kind of lost in their own world. I  mean, this is the moment that we had worked so hard for. It was about showtime. You go out and get warmed up, test the field and take a look at the other team. Look up into the stands; we weren’t supposed to, but how could you not? Back into the dressing room, go to the bathroom, meet with your position coach and gather as a group for the head coach to go over the game maxims.
“Then start getting pumped up. You hear the Pride of the Southland marching band marching down the field. The dressing room doors open up, and we edge to the field. The band opens up into a giant T. We are pumped as we run thru the ‘T’ to our bench. We are excited, we are anxious, and we are ready. We look across the field at all those red jerseys, red helmets with a big A on both sides. Your heart is racing and you feel like a racehorse standing at the starting gate. The referee blows his whistle; It’s show time.”
The book features more than 200 stories and photos, including the parade in 1967 to celebrate Johnny Mills Day. On that day, Mills was given the key to the city and Tennessee head coach Doug Dickey came to town to help celebrate.
The book is set to be released at Eagle Center Co-op in Elizabethton. It should reach other stores by mid-next week.

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