The No. 51 jersey from Shore Conference legend Sam Mills' time with the Carolina Panthers and high school jersey from where it all started - Long Branch - are proudly framed inside the Green Wave's gymnasium. They offer a reminder to keep persevering, or as Mills said in a now-famous speech: "Keep Pounding".

The Panthers and Green Wave are forever linked by a man beloved by both programs, but taken from the earth far too early. Mills passed away in April 2005 from intestinal cancer at just 45 years old. His memory lives on at Long Branch where he was a star football player and wrestler. "Keep Pounding" has become a mantra for the Panthers franchise since Mills' speech to the team leading up the their run to Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004. A linebackers coach for the Panthers, Mills' had just been diagnosed with cancer when he delivered an emotional speech that still resonates over a decade later.

"When I found out I had cancer," he said, "there were two things I could do: quit or keep pounding. I'm a fighter. I kept pounding. You're fighters, too. Keep pounding!"

Long Branch's football team along with head coach Dan George, a former two-sport star at Long Branch himself, and athletic director Jason Corley, sent a message of support to the Panthers this week ahead of their Super Bowl 50 matchup with the Denver Broncos.

 

Despite being a force in high school, Mills was not recruited because he was an undersized linebacker at just 5-foot-9. He made the football team at Montclair State as a walk-on and proceeded to set the career record for tackles, which still stands today. Again, despite a fantastic college career he was not give a chance in the NFL because of his size. He caught on with the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars of the now-defunct United States Football League and continued to produce, leading the Stars to two USFL championships. He is considered among the best defensive players in the short history of the USFL.

Stars head coach Jim Mora was brought on as the head coach of the New Orleans Saints following the 1985 season and Mills followed him there, finally getting his shot at the sport's highest level. That began a 12-year NFL career where Mills was a three-time All-Pro and a five-time Pro Bowl selection.

A free agent after the 1994 season, Mills signed with the Panthers in their expansion season of 1995. His veteran presence helped guide Carolina in its formative years, and he started every game during the team's first three seasons.

He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2009 and his jersey is retired by both the Saints and Panthers. His son, Sam Mills III, is currently an assistant coach for the Panthers.

 

Football editor Bob Badders can be reached at badders@allshoremedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.