By Brad Locke
Last season, it often got in his way. Milton was a redshirt freshman getting his first taste of college football. And while he showed some promise, rushing for 165 yards and two touchdowns, the Mississippi State tailback was doing too much thinking.
“Every time I was in, it was like, please don’t make a mistake, please don’t make a mistake,” Milton said Monday. “But now it’s just like a reaction. Just go out and have fun now.”
Milton, who’s part of a very deep group at running back, said things started clicking into place during spring practices this year. For one, he was fully healthy for the first time in a while.
And he was more confident in his knowledge of not just the offense, but of how to read opposing defenses.
“I know everything I need to know on offense,” Milton said, “it’s just what type of information does the defense give me before the play’s even snapped?”
Milton said that last year he “wasn’t focused on the defense at all, and was still thinking of, what step do I take, what linebacker do I got? Now it’s just like a reaction, like, boom boom boom, got it.”
Sophomore Josh Robinson has gone through this process alongside Milton, and he’s at about the same point in his progression. Both players are backing up starter LaDarius Perkins, who sets the standard.
“They are a step below Perk,” running backs coach Greg Knox said. “Perk is executing at a very high level. He doesn’t miss protections, he doesn’t miss assignments. …
“Milton and Josh are just right below him – Milton, Josh and Nick Griffin. When they’re in there, there’s trust. You can count on them, you can trust them.”
Griffin, a junior, is coming off his second major knee injury but said he’s feeling good on the field. He already knows what Milton and Robinson are finding out about speeding up the mental process. Griffin said it took him about two years to reach that level.
“I thought I knew stuff, and then I come back and I learn even more,” he said. “It’s like the older I get, the better I get at it.”
There is one more member of MSU’s crowded backfield: Freshman Ashton Shumpert, a four-star prospect out of Fulton. His tools have impressed coaches and teammates, but he’s still trying to digest all that’s being thrown at him.
Milton understands exactly what Shumpert is going through.
“And I laugh, because I made them same mistakes and went through that same thing,” Milton said. “But he’s definitely progressing really fast, and he wants to learn.”