Sam Mills, one of the best defensive players in the brief history of the USFL, is on the shortlist to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame next summer.

Mills played for the Philadelphia Stars before moving to the NFL, where he spent nine seasons with the Saints before becoming an original Carolina Panther.

Mills made the cut from an original group of 103 nominees. In January, the 25-person modern-era semifinalist list will be cut to 15, and then inductees will be announced the day before Super Bowl LIII.

He's a semifinalist for the second time — the first was in 2016.

Mills grew up in Monmouth County in New Jersey and played football at Montclair State. At just 5-9, he was considered too small to play linebacker.

He tried out with the Stars after then-Browns coach Sam Rutigliano called Carl Peterson, the president of Philly's USFL franchise, and urged the Stars to take a look.

"He said, 'If you sign him, don't cut him until you see him hit,' " Peterson said.

Jim Mora coached the Stars to two USFL championships in three seasons with Mills at linebacker. He brought Mills over to the NFL when Mora took the Saints head-coaching job in 1985.

"He was the best player I ever coached," said Mora.

Mills made five Pro Bowls with the Saints and Panthers, and his No. 51 is the only jersey Carolina has retired.

Mills died in 2005 at the age of 45 due to intestinal cancer.

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