MILTON - As head coach Scott Walker remarked, the Eagles’ 8-3 season didn’t come out of nowhere.
It was the culmination of years of hard work from a committed team of youths who bought wholeheartedly into the new style of Milton football.
“What happened this year was a result of them working so hard for the last two years,” said Walker. “Everybody bought in when we got here. This group of seniors, who were sophomores when I came, jumped in with both feet, didn’t ask any questions and didn’t complain.”
When Walker, a former Chattahoochee defensive coordinator, came to Milton three years ago he was committed to bring glory to a program that hadn’t hosted a playoff game since 1993. After a positive 2007 season, his plans bore fruit in 2008.
Walker said one of the main keys to success was the Eagles’ commitment to being competitive in every contest. There wasn’t one game all season Milton couldn’t have won, he said.
“They played hard every week and gave us a chance to win every one of them,” said Walker. “More times than not we were on the good side of them, and it just happened to not work out the last time.”
Milton lost in triple overtime to East Paulding High School 41-43 to end their season in the first round of the playoffs. It capped off a stirring season of high scoring victories, come-from-behind triumphs and close losses for the team.
“You could always say, ‘Well, we let three get away from us,’” said Walker. “But we also won a couple that, you know, maybe we shouldn’t have beaten Roswell [Milton came from behind late in the fourth quarter for a heart-stopping win over bitter rival the Hornets]. If you’re going to accept the Roswell win, then you have to accept somebody coming from behind and beating you.”
A major factor to that success was the stellar season of senior running back and University of Tennessee signee Toney Williams. Williams racked up 27 touchdowns in just 11 contests and averaged nearly 200 rushing yards a game.
He was a vital part of Milton’s potent offense, which outscored its opponents 299 to 191 in the regular season and posted five games with more than 40 points scored.
“I feel like we had a good season,” said Williams. “We got a lot accomplished that we wanted to. It didn’t end where we wanted it to, but our goal was to at least make it to the playoffs, and we accomplished that.”
Williams said the team’s chemistry was the biggest factor in their success — when he looks back at his senior season, he said, he’ll remember the fun.
“The talent was obviously there,” he said. “We just bought into the system, worked hard, and it paid off.”
Other seniors on the team shared similar sentiment.
Joe Kizer, a free safety, has played in Milton’s feeder program since he was in the seventh grade. Looking back at all those years, which included championships in his first two feeder team years, he said he enjoyed the 2008 campaign the most of any time he’s had playing football.
“This is the funnest season I’ve ever been a part of,” he said. “And I’m sure a lot of the other players would say the same thing.”
Part of that fun was the spirit of Milton’s students.
“This year, there was a lot more hype,” said Kizer. “Everyone around school was just stoked up about the games. People respected us as a team, and it hadn’t been like that before.”
The atmosphere of the games, he said, was “crazy.”
This marks the end of his football career, said Kizer, and it’s a good way to say goodbye.
“I’m always going to have the good memories,” he said.
Senior guard James Snyder, who also played in Milton’s feeder program and has plans to move on to college football, agrees.
“I had a great time this year,” he said. “Beating Roswell was one of the best times of my life. It was just a great time, a really cool experience.”
Looking back on 2008, Walker said a number of things stick out.
“The Roswell game is something I will never forget, the way in which we won that,” he said.
The banner year posted by Williams was at the top of the list also. Walker said a skipper gets just a few chances to coach a player as special as Toney Williams.
“The kid carried the ball 47 times in the playoff game and never stopped. He’s a tremendous, tremendous football player and an even better person off the field.
You never know if you’re going to coach someone like that again in your life.”
Next year, Walker said Milton is on a mission to gain respect with consistency. He said his real job as a coach is adapting to the team and talent pool of any given year.
“I think we showed [the team] wasn’t just the Toney Williams show,” said Walker. “You’ve got to find somebody. Maybe you have to throw it more, maybe it’s a wide out.”
As this year’s season goes into the history books, Walker said what he wants everyone in North Fulton to know is that Milton had “a great group of kids” playing fall Friday nights.
“They were such a family, they were so close. “There were no egos. What an opportunity for me and the rest of these coaches to be part of such a special family.”