Storybook ending for Georgia senior running back Kendall Milton

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Kirby Smart sought out Kendall Milton after the clock struck double-zeros in Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday night. The Georgia coach and senior running back shared a long embrace as Smart spoke directly in Milton’s ear so he could be sure to hear everything he had to say in the celebratory postgame din.

Milton’s four years with the Bulldogs have been mired with injury setbacks and long recoveries. But he walked off the field of what’s expected to have been his final college game carrying the Orange Bowl’s massive Most Outstanding Player trophy after Georgia’s 63-3 victory against Florida State.

About that, only Milton’s parents might have been happier than Smart.

“He just told me how proud he was with me,” Milton said of that moment with his coach. “If anybody knows, coach Smart knows what I’ve been through here at Georgia. This has not in any way been an easy journey. It hasn’t been a smooth journey. There’s been a lot of ups and downs, a lot of speed bumps along the way. But coach Smart is proud of how I stuck it out. I made it to the end and achieved success.

“I basically told him, ‘thanks for believing in me.’ At the end of the day, that’s all you can ask for.”

In a nutshell, Milton is finally healthy. Well, not exactly healthy. He played Saturday’s game like he has every one all year, with a brace on his left knee and heavy wraps on each thigh to help combat a chronic hamstring issue.

From the first snap Saturday, Milton was running with reckless abandon and knocking Florida State defenders backward. Fortunately for Milton, he wouldn’t have to play long.

The first two offensive touches of the game belonged to him and went for 22 yards. Milton scored the Bulldogs’ first two touchdowns as well, the first on a 15 yard-jaunt, the second on a 5-yard run with a 43-yard beauty around left end in between.

Milton’s ninth and final carry of the night came four minutes before halftime and resulted in modest 3-yard gain. But by then, he had 104 yards on only nine carries. It was the fourth 100-yard game of Milton’s career.

Georgia running back Kendall Milton (2) the MVP of the game celebrates by throwing oranges to teammates after Georgia’s 63-3 win against Florida State in the Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium, Saturday, Dec. 30, 2023, in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Jason Getz /


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Milton wasn’t the only one gaining on the ground Saturday. The Bulldogs finished with a season-high 372 rushing yards. They averaged 7.91 yards on 47 attempts, led by Milton’s 11.6 per-carry rate.

“O-line a great job, running backs ran hard, quarterback put us in a good position by making the right run-checks, and the receivers blocked their tails off,” run-game coordinator Dell McGee said. “So, it was a total team effort. But I love Kendall going out the way he did. Really happy for him and Daijun (Edwards) and everything they’ve done the last four years.”

Said senior offensive tackle Xavier Truss: “I don’t think you could have dreamed it much better than that. I’m so happy with how far Kendall’s come, overcoming injuries, overcoming personal things and being the leader we needed, especially at the end of this thing. He’s only going to keep getting better.”

Milton definitely saved the best for last. A 5-star-rated recruit per, he signed with Georgia out of Fresno, California, with the expectation of becoming the next in the long line of superstars playing the marquee position at “Running Back U.” But it didn’t turn out that way, not for a while at least. Injuries forced Milton to miss 12 of 40 games and big chunks of several others his first three seasons. Instead of a 1,000-yard season, it took Milton three seasons to break the thousand-yard barrier.

But Milton came on fast at the end. His 100-yard-plus game Saturday was his third in the past five games. He scored two touchdowns in all but one of those games, and his two Saturday gave him 14 for the season, the most by a Georgia back since Nick Chubb had 15 in 2017.

“I’ve been fighting tears all week, fighting tears after the game, because this team is family for me,” Milton said, fighting back tears again. “This is a real brotherhood, and that shows around here day-in-and day-out, and I couldn’t be prouder of that.”

Said Smart, now sitting to Milton’s left at a press conference at Hard Rock Stadium: “Kendall’s meant a lot to this program. He’s given so much. He’s been through a lot. I remember going all the way to California to see him in recruiting, sitting in his house, and I know he has sacrificed a ton to be here and make this a better place. So, I want to thank you here publicly, Kendall, for what you’ve done.”