The 2018 season marks Milton’s 69th year of football. Last year’s Eagles put up a 9-3 record, their best since the 2014 season in which they went 11-2 and claimed a region championship. And that success came during what head coach Adam Clack called a transition year in his first season leading the program, leaving the door wide open for a promising 2018 season after some more development.
“Last year was a transition year for us,” Clack said. “It had its own unique set of challenges. I felt that we got the coaches and players, we established the identity and philosophy we wanted to play with. The values and type of play, the type of program we wanted to represent. This year will be about cementing those things and taking them to the next step.
“I talked to the guys about what we learned and how to compete. There was never a stage where the guys were overwhelmed. I felt we could find room for improvement on handling success. Each day is a day within itself, and what I did yesterday doesn’t mean I’m going to do that today.”
The intensity Clack wants from his team starts with the offense.
“We’re going to play with tempo on offense,” said Clack. “A lot of urgency in everything that we do. Everything has an urgency to it. Not that we didn’t do that before, but we have our own unique way of achieving that.”
Last season’s offensive line was led by seniors Blake Watson, Austin Paden, DJ Jordan and Nate Thompson. With that unit going through changes in the offseason, the opportunity to score rests in the hands of skill players.
“Much of last year, we exploited a lot of different avenues offensively,” said Clack. “[The] passing and rushing game [are not completely different], but we want to know what our identity is, understanding our quarterback and the guys around him will be beneficial going forward. That’s the case with any player.”
The Milton wide receiver core lost its leading receiver, Dash Hairston, who led the team with 29 receptions for 576 yards and six touchdowns. His targets will be dispersed among the remaining pass-catchers, with a big portion expected to go to Syaire Waters. While Waters is expected to play some cornerback, his major contributions will come from his work stretching the field on offense. His 20 receptions for 365 yards and four touchdowns during his 2017 season was bested only by Hairston. Senior Dylan Leonard has suffered from several injuries off and on but is expected to return stronger than ever to have an impactful senior campaign.
When it comes to the run game, the Eagles will undoubtedly have a hard time replacing their No. 1 back Solomon Vanhorse this season. Vanhorse was a steamroller, rushing for 1,250 yards on 192 attempts and scoring 10 touchdowns. The next back in line was Ahmad Echols, who rushed 23 times for 90 yards during his sophomore season. He’ll be given the ball more frequently with Vanhorse and fellow graduate D.J. Albright out of the picture.
While the running back group took a hit, the most impressive runner on the team this year is likely senior quarterback Jordan Yates. Last season, Yates rushed 144 times for 1,044 yards and nine touchdowns. When the two-year starter wasn’t taking off downfield, he let his passing do the job. He threw for 2,011 yards and 19 touchdowns last season, making him a true dual threat on the field.
“In our offense, the quarterback will dictate the identity of the offense,” Clack said. “We put a lot of pressure on him to get us in the right place.”
Defensively, the Eagles lose some notable players. Two-time region defensive player of the year Justin Blanks and two-year starter London Best both held down the line during their time at Milton. Along with Waters at cornerback, junior Jack Rhodes is expected to make big strides toward becoming a real playmaker at free safety. As a sophomore his time was limited, but now with some experience under his belt, Clack sees Rhodes making big contributions.
Milton’s surge into the 2018 season will start with the school’s first appearance in the Corky Kell Classic. When asked about the mentality of the team as they inch closer and closer to their debut against Archer, Clack emphasized the importance of focus and a team-first mentality.
“It’s all about fundamental football,” he said. “It’s about playing with urgency and effort. At the end of the day you have to protect the football and take it away from the other team. We want to create more turnovers this year. We want to focus on red-zone production. We want to punch the ball in as much as possible. I just want them to enjoy the game and embrace their role on the team, whatever it is. If we do that and put the team first, everything else will take care of itself.”
MILTON’S 2018 SCHEDULE
8/17 Archer (Georgia State)
8/24 at Alpharetta
8/31 Cardinal Gibbons
9/21 at Parkview
10/5 West Forsyth
10/12 at South Forsyth
10/19 Forsyth Central
11/2 at North Forsyth