BOZEMAN — Football is more than just a game.
It’s a brotherhood. A community. Tradition.
However, once a week in the NFL, it’s also a platform where players are able to wear their hearts on their feet.
“They gave us a bunch of options and different choices to choose from, but it was kind of a no-brainer for me,” former Montana State Bobcat and current Los Angeles Rams rookie Lance McCutcheon shared.
Through the My Cause My Cleats initiative, Week 13 of the NFL is an opportunity for both players and coaches to reveal their passions beyond the game of football while raising awareness for organizations that have a special meaning to them.
During training camp, Rams rookies had the chance to sort through a list of potential causes, but for Lance McCutcheon, the decision was easy — the American Foundation for Suicide and Prevention.
“The reason why I chose mental health and suicide prevention is because that topic really hits home for me," the wide receiver shared. "In 8th grade, I lost one of my best friends to suicide.”
A cause that hits close to home. 🤍— Ashley Washburn (@ashleyjwashburn) December 1, 2022
This Sunday @RamsNFL's Lance McCutcheon will wear custom @afspnational cleats in honor of his best friend Connor.
"Growing up, he was like a big brother to me. The big brother that I never had."#MyCauseMyCleats | #MSUBobcatsFB pic.twitter.com/fHenYWRJ7p
Connor Mills was your typical 14-year-old boy.
He was an athlete, loved to hang out with his friends, was the best twin, big brother, and had a way of making people laugh.
“Connor was an amazing young man," Kristi Mills, Connor's mom, smiled. "He lit up the room when he came in. He had such a big, kind heart.”
Connor’s mom had a first-hand seat to Connor and Lance’s friendship that of course stemmed from sports and said it didn’t matter if it was football or basketball, the two just clicked.
"They just – they had a connection," Kristi laughed.
“Growing up he was my best friend," McCutcheon shared. "He was like a big brother to me. The big brother that I never had, and he’s always somebody that I come to, laugh with.”
Laughs that often echoed through the Mills household.
But even behind Connor's beautiful smile, there was also pain.
“I think he was just scared to tell people that he was depressed because they would say, ‘Well, what are you depressed about?'" Kristi said. "'You’re this great kid with a loving family and wonderful friends in a great community.' He really hid it from us.”
On May 31, 2013 — just weeks before the end of the school year – Connor Mills died by suicide.
“One of the last things he said to me when he was struggling was he had taped the words, ‘Love and Hope,’ up in his room," Kristi shared. "I asked him about it, and he said it was because when he was really struggling on those dark nights, that’s what he holds on to is love and hope, and then he looked at me and he asked me, 'Mom, promise me you’ll never give up on love and hope.'"
Since 2013, people from all walks of life have been working to end the stigma around mental health.
McCutcheon's cleats are just a small piece of the work being done, but if there was one person that was helped during Week 13 of the NFL, it’s a step in the right direction.
“Whoever is struggling with mental health and is contemplating or has contemplated suicide, I just want to let them know that whatever you’re going through, no matter how hard it is, the answer is never to take your own life," McCutcheon stated. "You have a lot of people – friends and family – that love you and care about you and want the best for you and will do what they can to help you get through this.”
“I did have a pretty vivid dream not long after where he told me he didn’t mean to, but he was just in so much pain," Kristi said. "That’s why I just so appreciate Lance shouting out these organizations. I hope they call whenever they need help.”
Life without their son, their twin, and their big brother hasn’t been easy for the last nine years, but if there’s one thing that’s certain, they’re definitely not giving up on love and hope.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or you can dial 988.