RALEIGH — In a room full of legends from across the state of North Carolina, a linebacker from New Jersey made yet another mark here.
The late Sam Mills was inducted to the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame Friday night, in a ceremony at the Raleigh Convention Center.
The former Panthers linebacker and coach spent just his final 10 years in the state, but made such an indelible impact that being honored alongside greats such as Hornets legend Tyrone "Muggsy" Bogues seemed as natural as if he was native.
(It was a big night for the too-short, as the 5-foot-9 Mills and the 5-foot-3 Bogues represented the ability to overcome, to exceed expectations, and to win the hearts of fans across the state.)
But the recognition did more than add another line to Mills' already-incredible resume, it also brought the family together again at a time when finding the time can be hard.
His wife Melanie and son Marcus were onstage with the other recipients, and were joined by a number of family members including son Sam Mills III, who drove down from the Washington area to join them. Sam III is an assistant coach for the Washington Commanders, but said this was an opportunity he wasn't going to pass up.
"It's a special honor, because it's another step in showing the way the Carolinas have taken my father and the whole family in," he said. "Being mentioned with all these North Carolina greats, and there are some great names on this list getting in, and who have been in. It's a tremendous honor. Any time you can be on a list with someone like Julius Peppers it's a tremendous honor, and this year with this class, it's wonderful."
Mills is the third former Panthers player to be honored here, alongside the University of North Carolina's Peppers (Class of 2021) and wide receiver Ricky Proehl (Class of 2011), who starred at Wake Forest before his NFL career.
And realizing that company hit Sam III, who'll head back north to prepare for another week of offseason program, and the upcoming NFL Draft.
"It's overwhelming for me, because I know the hard work all these people put in," he said. "No matter what sport you're in, whatever level you're in, they have one thing in common, they're hard workers.
"The common thread with most of these people too, is they're all great teammates. So it's incredible to be in a room full of people like this, and among people who appreciate people like this."
That appreciation was tangible in the room, as the first three honorees of the night were baseball star Luke Appling, women's basketball legend Missouri Arledge, and Mills. Video compilations of their accomplishments and impact were shown before the speeches from the living inductees, with the Mills presentation capped by the visual of the Keep Pounding drum. That message was born during Mills' fight with cancer, as he coached the team during the Super Bowl run after the 2003 season.
And that message is still very much a part of the state's sporting lore.
Seeing the reception his father got brought it all home for his son, who grew up in North Carolina and coached here himself, and was able to come back to see his own family and friends in the crowd.
"Yeah, it can get weird as time goes on, you can drift further apart at times," Sam III admitted. "But I think the last couple of years, the Carolinas have really brought my family back into the fold.
"Just something as simple as keeping the Keep Pounding chant going, that means a lot to us, and to our family. And it means a lot to the Carolina fanbase."
And for that fanbase, the Mills family means just as much.
Sam Mills' wife, Melanie, and son, Marcus, visited the N.C. Sports Hall of Fame prior to Friday night's induction ceremony for Sam Mills.