Milton won a state championship in football last season that few outside of north Fulton County envisioned. The school had not advanced past the quarterfinals since the 1950s. And the Eagles had lost two regular-season games, albeit to some pretty tough teams, Parkview and Roswell, both tightly contested.
Then in the playoffs, Milton defeated No. 4 Hillgrove in the quarterfinals, traditional power Lowndes in the semifinals and No. 1 Colquitt County for the championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Colquitt, which had several top-five national rankings entering that game, was hailed as a 21-point favorite by the computer Maxwell Ratings.
Given a few months to let it sink in, Milton coach Adam Clack hasn’t changed his assessment of what happened. Milton was good all along, he said. Really good, as it turned out.
‘’I look at it more as a team – capital T-E-A-M - that was good and got there by believing and trusting in one another and the coaches and never flinching,’’ Clack said. “This team’s courage to compete and ability to respond to adversity was something I hadn’t seen. The quality of work improved every day.
‘’Throw on top of that just a really good coaching staff that did their job to put them in position with great practice and game plans and everything came together. I don’t think there was anything fluky about it.’’
Milton, which will start spring practice in a month, will graduate 11 players that made first-team all-region in 5-AAAAAAA. Those include player of the year Jordan Yates (a quarterback signed with Georgia Tech), co-offensive player of the year Dylan Leonard (a tight end/wide receiver to Georgia Tech) and defensive player of the year Jordan Davis (linebacker to West Georgia).
Also graduating will be 1,000-yard rusher Joshua Edwards, linebacker Allen Walker (Louisiana Tech) and Joseph Charleston (Clemson) and Nasier Currie-Sudler (UMass), whom Clack called the best safety combination in the country.
The 2018 team possessed plenty of playmakers of both sides of the ball. The 2019 team, on the other hand, will be anchored on the lines of scrimmage. Paul Tchio, a four-star recruit committed to Clemson, will be the team’s marquee player. Zander Barnett, Alec Hutchinson, Anthony Minella and Marcos Rangel are other linemen who got all-region recognition last year. Most will play significantly on both sides of the ball.
Jack Rhodes, who had over 100 tackles at linebacker last year, should emerge from the shadows of his 2018 teammates next season as a defensive back/wide receiver. The replacement for Yates – who passed for 2,590 yards and rushed for 1,134 – is uncertain. Rising senior Jackson Weaver, Yates’ backup, will have to fend off younger challengers.
‘’Our style is going to be different, but the standard will be the same,’’ Clack said. “We had guys like Joe Charleston and Jordan Yates and Dylan Leonard – a lot of outside-in talent last year. Our physicality came from being able to pursue for 48 minutes and being able to stretch you for 48. This year, what’s returning is a lot of guys inside, guys coming back on the o-line, the d-line, solid depth at linebacker and tight end.’’
As in 2018, Milton will play an ambitious schedule. Remember that Milton opened last season by upsetting No. 3 Archer in the Corky Kell Classic, then beat Cardinal Gibbons of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., 42-17 in the first Freedom Bowl, a six-game event that Milton hosted. Cardinal Gibbons went on to win Florida’s Class 5A championship.
‘’We didn’t win a state championship because we played in the Corky Kell or the Freedom Bowl, but it did help our kids stay poised because we did things early in the year that we hadn’t done before,’’ Clack said. “The lights at Mercedes-Benz aren’t as bright if you’ve played in events like that.’’
Regardless of how the season unfolds, Milton will be in the limelight again.
The Eagles will open against Buford in the Corky Kell. Then on Sept. 14, Milton will become the first Georgia high school team to play a game in California. The Eagles are set to play JSerra Catholic in The Trinity League vs. USA Showcase outside of Los Angeles. JSerra was 9-3 in last season and ranked No. 17 nationally in the MaxPreps’ final computer national rankings.
‘’When I interviewed here [in 2017], I said we’ve got to get into the Corky Kell and try to get some national experience whether it’s bringing in out-of-state teams or going to play those teams,’’ Clack said. “It creates a great experience for those kids. … And you like to have your school talked about. You feel relevant. It doesn’t put points on scoreboard, but it keeps the community excited.’’
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.