When the Bears host the Saints Monday night at Soldier Field, right tackle Jordan Mills will face the team he cheered for while growing up just outside New Orleans.
His favorite Saints players a decade ago were running back Deuce McAllister, defensive tackle Norman Hand and center LeCharles Bentley. But one individual Mills started to admire after enrolling at Louisiana Tech still impacts his career every single day.
|Tackles Jermon Bushrod (74) and Jordan Mills have been Bears teammates for two seasons.|
"He's going to laugh at this, but when I was in college I was a Jermon Bushrod fan," Mills said. "I remember sitting on my couch when Jammal Brown got hurt and my dad asking me who's the new tackle. I said, 'Jermon Bushrod' and I've been a fan of Bushrod's ever since."
With both linemen performing at a high level for their respective teams in Louisiana, Mills kept close tabs on Bushrod. In 2013, they joined forces with the Bears; Bushrod signed as a free agent in March and Mills was selected in the fifth round of the draft a little over a month later.
Mills was drawn to Bushrod because of his work ethic and their similar paths to the NFL.
"He came from Towson as a fourth-round pick," Mills said. "He was a round higher than me, but it's basically the same thing. He had to work to get to where he got. He just kept working every day and did everything the coaches asked of him until he got his chance.
"He worked hard and became a two-time Pro Bowler and one of the best left tackles in the league. It helps me tremendously to have him on the other side as far as knowing the game and his tutelage. I feed off of him all the time. To have a chance to play with him has been incredible."
Bushrod roars with laughter when informed that Mills has been a fan of his since college. But the veteran left tackle certainly sees some similarities.
"Jordan kind of reminds me of myself when I came into this league; a quiet individual who just goes to work and finds a way to get better even as a young player," Bushrod said.
"He has a good foundation so far. If he continues to grow on that and continues to keep his mind right and keeps his body where he needs to be, he's going to have a long future in this league."
Mills smiles when he recalls his first face-to-face meeting with Bushrod. It came in the old players' lunch room at Halas Hall—since renovated into a large classroom—shortly after Mills was drafted.
"The first time I met him he was the smoothest, coolest dude ever," Mills said. "He had these glasses on and he was asking me some questions about where I was from. The last thing he said was, 'If you ever need anything, whether it's on the field or off the field, [ask] me,' and he's been helping me ever since. He's a very humble dude; a down-to-earth dude who's always willing to help somebody no matter what the situation is."
Mills has sought Bushrod's advice about purchasing a home and investing his money, and has also talked to the married father of two about starting a family.
"Anything about life he's there to talk to and he gives me his insight the best he can," Mills said.
Mills also routinely heads out to practice 30 minutes early, something he learned from Bushrod.
"When he was at New Orleans, I watched what he did and tried to mimic him as much as I could," Mills said. "It was a true blessing coming here and finding out he was here."