A different Swamp sideline for former Florida player

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Florida defensive tackle Clint McMillan tries to reach the Southern Mississippi quarterback during this 2006 game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. McMillan returns to The Swamp on Saturday. [Tracy Wilcox/The Gainesville Sun]

The former football player’s job offered him plenty of free time. The pay was good if you didn’t mind crawling on damaged roofs in New Jersey and dealing with insurance companies.

There was one problem.

It wasn’t football.

“Insurance restoration. I was miserable every day,” Clint McMillan said. “I hated every second of it.”

He goes by Clinton these days (“More formal,” he said) and the former Florida defensive tackle is loving life again. On Saturday, he’ll be back in The Swamp as an assistant coach at Tennessee-Martin.

He can almost smell it, taste it, feel it. The place where he used to play, where he was part of a national championship team in 2006.

The stadium where he gave so much sweat and expects to drop a few pounds again Saturday (high of 95 expected).

“I already got my guys hydrating early in the week before they go down there (insert Willie Taggart joke here),” McMillan said. “I walk around Florida now in a T-shirt and shorts and almost pass out. It’s like practicing in a hot tub.

“Forget the players. I had to start hydrating so I don’t cramp up. That would be embarrassing.”

McMillan doesn’t really need to lose any weight anyway as he’s lost 80 pounds since being a 310-pound defender at Florida. On a team full of stars — Chris Leak, Tim Tebow, Jarvis Moss, Reggie Nelson, etc. — McMillan was a grinder on the team that won Florida’s second national title.

You don’t win without those guys, the ones who will do anything on special teams, including being the blocking back on punts and are ready to be called on if a starter tweaks an ankle.

McMillan started 13 games during Tebow’s Heisman Trophy year in 2007 and got his degree in sociology. But when that season ended, football went away.

“It was no secret I wasn’t very good,” he said in a typically self-deprecating way.

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Not a sniff from an NFL team. He went to work. But it was always there, that emptiness that comes with missing the game.

McMillan knew playing sports had allowed him to go to college, had helped shape him into a better person. He wanted to do the same thing for other young men.

“You can change your life playing sports,” he said.

So he changed his own.

He quit.

And he took a job making $8,000 a year as a grad assistant at Marshall where old UF coaches Doc Holiday and Chuck Heater had settled in.

He was back.

And since then …

“I’ve never worked a day in my life,” he said. “I love football.”

McMillan eventually caught the eye of UT-Martin coach Jason Simpson, who hired him to coach the defensive line and be co-special teams coordinator at the school three years ago.

“He’s gotten better every year,” Simpson said. “I gave a lot of trust with him and our defensive line.

“And you certainly see he is making a difference with punt and punt return units. He does a good job with recruiting the state of Florida. I think we’re up to 13 kids and he’s recruited all those guys. He does a really good job for us.”

McMillan has already talked to some of the UT-Martin players about The Swamp. Simpson said he’ll ask him to do it again later this week.

“I’m sure coming back will be a special opportunity for him,” Simpson said.

“We’ll take any advice he can give us.”

Here’s what he’ll tell them — it’s going to be loud and it’s going to be hot and it’s going to help you as a football player and a person to be in that kind of environment.

“It’s going to be great, a little surreal,” McMillan said. “A lot of good memories in there. A lot of familiarity with coaches and support staff.

“It’ll be a great experience. I told them it’s the most hostile environment in college football.”

For once, he’ll run on the field to being chomped at instead of being chomped for.

Dan Mullen, who has received numerous texts from McMillan after big wins, joked Wednesday that he needs to remember to turn right instead of left when he runs on the field.

Ha ha.

It’s something Clinton McMillan can live with.

Because he’s coaching.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley