MILTON, Ga. – The Milton Eagles have a long and cherished history but have not had much success on the high school football field for several years. But the 2012 season could be the one that gives the team’s fans something to make them forget about the past.
The Eagles enter the season with five seniors having already committed to Division I college programs, with at least two underclassmen already drawing attention.
This could easily be the most talented team the Eagles have fielded in decades, but Milton coach Howie DeCristofaro believes his squad has an attribute that may be even more important.
“I’ve been coaching 29 years, and this is the best group of kids I’ve been around,” said DeCristofaro. “And it’s not just talent. These kids are hard workers.”
DeCristofaro has been especially impressed by the work ethic of his top players, which has set a good example for the remainder of his team.
Four of the five D-1 commits are on the offensive side of the football, including three members of what should be an exceptional line.
Tackle Eason Fromayan (TCU), guard Josh Harris and center Cory Helms (both Wake Forest) are the three returning starters. They will be joined by converted defensive lineman Connor Harp at guard and sophomore tackle Nick Wilson, who will be a big-time prospect by his senior season.
The five average around 270 pounds, with Harp the only one of the group under 6-foot-3. They will be blocking for Ole Miss-bound Peyton Barber and top junior prospect Treyvon Paulk, who will give the Eagles one of the best 1-2 backfield duos in the state.
Barber missed most of the 2011 season with an ankle injury, but Paulk stepped in amassing more than 1,000 yards rushing before he too was also slowed by an injury. DeCristofaro says both will be on the field the vast majority of the time, with the Eagles “doing some different things” to take advantage of their talents.
Barber has size and speed and is able to run past or around defenders. He will likely be the primary runner, with the elusive Paulk lining up in different spots and also getting plenty of carries, while becoming more of a factor in Milton’s passing game.
The Eagles also have some returning talent at receiver, led by rangy wide receiver Malik Mitchell, who DeCristofaro says “is vastly improved.” Peter Bodunrin also returns on the outside, with Eric Abbott providing a reliable target at tight end.
Milton will have a new quarterback this season, with basketball player A.J. Bush having an edge over A.J. Noegel, a backup in 2011. Because of the talent around them, neither will need to shoulder too a great burden, with DeCristofaro confident both can “throw the ball well and make good decisions.”
The defense is not as well stocked as the offense, but the presence of Auburn commit Carl Lawson (255) at end will be felt by all of the Eagles’ opponents. DeCristofaro says Lawson is “the best I’ve ever coached at all positions and is a great kid with high character and high energy.”
Marshall McConnell is back at tackle after an injury-plagued junior season, and DeCristofaro says he might wind up at the next level as an offensive lineman. Mitch Williams gives the Eagles quickness at the other end, with Alpharetta transfer Noah Allen helping in either the line or at linebacker.
Grant Smith moves from outside linebacker to the middle this season, with safety Zack Spiezio (five interceptions as a sophomore) the only other returning starter on defense.
Chase Polkow will likely be one of the cornerbacks, with basketball player Jerrell Knight also expected to help out in the secondary. Tyler Blaine is moving from safety to help fill one of the vacant spots at outside linebacker.
The Eagles’ talent up front will help compensate for the inexperience behind it, with opposing quarterbacks looking at a limited amount of time to locate an open receiver.
Milton’s kicking game has benefited from re-districting, with promising punter Matt Moskowitz coming over from Roswell. Four players are competing for the placekicking duties.
DeCristofaro, who guided the Eagles to the state playoffs last year in his first season as head coach, knows he has a good team.
As to how good, he offers a non-committal, “I don’t know.” But asked if he likes what he’s seen from his team through the early stages of practice, he says, “I’m as pleased as I can be.”
The Eagles open their season at Alpharetta Aug. 31 in what should be one of the more interesting early season contests around the state.