Kendall Milton ready to ‘take torch’ as a featured Georgia back

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Georgia running backs Kendall Milton (2) and Kenny McIntosh are setting up to be the team's latest dynamic duo at the position. (Photo by Mackenzie Miles)

ATHENS — Last week, we wrote about Georgia running back Kenny McIntosh. This week, the subject is Kendall Milton.

Get used to it. The two backs are setting up to be the latest dynamic duo in a long history of them for the Bulldogs.

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Each of them, by the way, always is careful to include fellow running back Daijun Edwards into their remarks. A junior from Moultrie, Edwards is sharing reps equally with Milton and McIntosh this spring and has been impressive in doing so, as he has throughout his UGA career.

“Now, Daijun, that’s one guy I think a lot people sleep on,” Milton said. “When you see him every day in practice, he has a killer ‘dead-leg’ (move) that’s almost unstoppable. He has great balance, great speed, great power. So, I feel like he’s going to surprise a lot of people this year.”

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Perhaps, but it’s Milton and McIntosh – or “KM Squared,” as they’ve come to be known – who are going to be on the marquee for Georgia football in 2022.

The two have shared the spotlight as backups to James Cook and Zamir White the past two seasons. They’ve proudly fulfilled that duty, but they’re quite happy about moving into a lead role this season.

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“Everybody here comes in as highly recruited athletes and has the stars and everything,” Milton said. “But when you come to a school like Georgia, you know you have to wait your turn. Basically you have to trust the process and trust the development that coach (Dell) McGee has in store for us. He’s had a good line of running backs, and it’s been good just sitting back and learning from older backs.”

Now Milton and McIntosh are those older backs. Milton is a 6-foot-1, 220-pound junior from Fresno, Calif., who, if not for some injury issues the past two seasons, probably would have gotten on the field more than he has. McIntosh is a senior and three-year letterman with 34 games of experience under his belt.

“We want to compete and make each other better every day,” McIntosh said of Milton. “He helps me, I help him, we’re brothers in all this. So, yeah, we compete, but at the same time, we’re getting each other better.”

“Everybody here comes in as highly recruited athletes and has the stars and everything. But when you come to a school like Georgia, you know you have to wait your turn. Basically you have to trust the process and trust the development that coach (Dell) McGee has in store for us.

- UGA running back Kendall Milton

Together with Edwards and a deep offensive line that returns three starters, they are why the Bulldogs aren’t expecting any falloff from a running game that averaged 190.6 yards a year ago.

“I feel great just being back out there and being able to put the pads on with my brothers,” Milton said after Thursday’s practice. “Spring is always a fun time. It’s competitive and physical, and everybody just goes out there and has fun. We’ve been having a good time in practice.”

Milton is more ready than anybody to start having those good times in games. Georgia coaches – and fans – have seen enough of Milton to know his four-star composite ranking as a recruiting prospect (Rivals rated him a five-star) was justified. Milton has averaged 5 yards per carry in two seasons at UGA. He scored his one-and-only career touchdown against Arkansas last year.

But Milton has played in only 15 of the Bulldogs’ 29 games over that span. Some of that was coach’s decision, but most of it has been the result of injuries. Milton missed six consecutive games last season because of the same type of knee sprain that limited his work to seven games as a freshman. He also did not play against Vanderbilt earlier last season, but he made appearances in the Bulldogs’ final two games.

Milton said his knee is healed now, and he’s full go for spring practice without any worries or limitations. He said he gets “extra treatment” before and after most workouts.

“Once I found out what happened, I knew it was something that wasn’t going to affect me in the long term, that it was something I just had to get through in the moment,” Milton said of the injury, suffered in a practice before the Florida game last year. “But it was definitely tough having to sit out most of the season. But I’m healthy now and ready to get on the field.”

His competition with McIntosh and Edwards has been intense through six practices, with the seventh taking place Tuesday on the Woodruff Practice Fields. The final of the 15 this spring will be the annual G-Day intrasquad game, which will be played April 16 at Sanford Stadium (1 p.m., ESPN2).

All three upperclassmen are battling for the right to be featured as RB1 in that contest and, more important, in the season opener against Oregon in their Chick-fil-A Kickoff game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. But they all know that playing running back at Georgia is a group effort where seniority carries some clout but production on the field determines how much time one spends on it.

Two highly touted freshmen in Branson Robinson and Andrew Paul will join the competition this summer. A handful of walk-ons, led by junior Sevaughn Clark, will absorb the backup snaps this spring.

But, for now at least, this looks like a two-dog race for Georgia’s running back glory.

“I feel like it’s kind of a pass-the-torch situation,” Milton said. “Everybody comes in with people in front of them, so you just kind of soak it all in like a sponge. Now they’ve moved on, and they’re chasing their dreams. At this point, the torch is passed, and me and Kenny we have to take up those leadership roles.”