April 16, 2013
By Jon Cooper
Chris Milton donned a Kansas City Royals baseball cap as he left practice Monday afternoon.
He’s not a Royals fan and wasn’t planning to attend either of the two games at Turner Field between the Braves and Royals.
“Oh, I just like the hat. That’s all,” he said, with a laugh.
Besides, it’s more fun for him to put a hat on somebody — even a teammate. He made a habit of it on opposing returners, especially last season.
“On punt team I’m a gunner and on kickoff I’m kind of like a covers guy,” said the redshirt sophomore, who racked up 20 tackles, 17 of them solo, also causing a fumble. “That’s fun because you play just open and there’s not many schemes and things going into it. You just get out there and play. It makes it a lot more fun.”
It’s been more fun than being on the offensive side of the ball. That’s where the 5-11, 183-pound native of Folkston, Ga., played in high school, starring as a running back and a quarterback at Charlton County High.
Now his hits on the other side are a hit to watch, especially during film sessions.
“When you start watching the film you start to grade him. You’re looking, ‘Who is that?’ and you go back and it’s him, it’s him, it’s him,” said Georgia Tech’s special teams coordinator Dave Walkosky. “He’s involved in a lot of plays. Even if he doesn’t make the play, he’s impacted the play. He may go down. We say, ‘Go take your shot.’ He’s the one taking a shot. [Against] Florida State, he takes a shot, gets back up and gets involved in the tackle. The biggest thing is his tenacity. His wanting to make every play on special teams is awesome.”
Being the gunner is no easy task. It means an automatic double-team before the ball is even snapped. Milton sees it as a challenge.
“I’m just trying to go out there and make plays that’s all,” he said. “There’s a lot of grabbing going on that doesn’t get seen or called. You just go out there and try to make plays.I like the challenge to show that I’m better than them.”
He’s been better than a lot of the teams he’s seen. Last season, in the ACC Championship Game, he made four tackles (three solo) against Florida State and he gave USC fits, even though they had a month to prepare for him.
“It’s a great compliment to the young man, when you’re playing against USC and their special teams coach goes, ‘Can anybody block 18?'” said Walkosky. “That’s a huge compliment to him and he’s built that reputation himself.
“I always say you have to be willing and able,” he added. “He is definitely able with his athletic ability but his willingness and his tenacity to go and try to make every play, that’s why he’s going to be a great defensive player in time.”
That time may be soon.
A two-time special teams player of the game for the Jackets last season, Milton showed he can be as tenacious in the secondary. He started at safety in last year’s Sun Bowl against the Trojans, recording a solo tackle and breaking up two passes.
“It was my first start,” he said. “I was real excited to go out there to help my team win, which we did. Pretty much just learn, try to get my confidence up so I can try to compete for a starting job this season.”
While Tech returns its starting safeties in Isaiah Johnson and Jemea Thomas, seniors and the team’s top two tacklers last season, Milton doesn’t mind remaining patient as he awaits his opportunity, while keeping an eye on Johnson and Thomas.
“I can learn a lot of things because any time they do something and we do something a little different they might critique us,” he said. “They’re pretty much helping us out any way they can.”
Paul Johnson believes that Milton has helped himself earn more field time with his play.
“Chris started in the bowl game. He played some at the end of last year,” said Johnson. “He’s had a pretty good spring and I can see him playing a lot this fall. He did a nice job and hopefully he’ll continue to do that because he’ll still probably have a role on special teams.”
Adding safety to his role on special teams would be a hat Milton wouldn’t mind wearing. He’d probably like it even more than the Kansas City Royals hat.