In a perfect world, I wouldn’t be writing about Kendall Milton this soon.
Not because Milton isn’t a good kid. He is.
Not because Milton doesn’t possess outstanding football talent. He most certainly does.
Regardless, I’m still a little reluctant to make Milton the subject of a Sunday column, and for one simple reason: He turned 15 years old in February.
And 15-year-olds, no matter how good a kid or great a football player they are, shouldn’t be getting scholarship offers from major college programs.
“It’s completely crazy,” says Chris Milton, Kendall’s dad.
It’s surreal walking places and seeing people pointing.
Chris Milton, father of 15-year-old football star Kendall Milton
In a perfect world, at least my version of one, kids like Kendall Milton would be allowed to be kids for a little while longer. They wouldn’t be subjected to the scrutiny and pressure facing the Buchanan High freshman. No matter how big (6 feet, 1½ inches tall) and muscular (202 pounds) they are.
Of course, we don’t live in that world. In the one we inhabit, college football teams are getting their claws into top prospects earlier than ever.
Which explains why Milton received his first scholarship offer, from Brigham Young, during his eighth-grade year at Alta Sierra Intermediate. When he was 13 years, 11 months old.
Fresno State, where Kendall’s older brother Ka’Lonn is a walk-on defensive back, became offer No. 2 in February. Last weekend, the running back (for now) picked up offers from Pac-12 division rivals UCLA and Utah, and by the time you read this there likely will be more.
How does a kid who isn’t old enough to drive alone, who still likes to curl up on the couch with mom, handle that without letting it go to his head?
“It feels crazy, but it humbles me at the same time,” Milton says. “It tells me I have to work harder and just keep competing. Because all that stuff can be taken away if I screw up.”
I’m just going to keep working hard and doing the things that got me here.
It’s a lot to process. Picture how Milton spent a recent Saturday in Los Angeles. In the morning, he attended a photo shoot for the Tom Lemming Prep Football Report, a leading recruiting magazine. Then came a UCLA spring practice by invitation of running backs coach Deshaun Foster.
When Kendall and Chris arrived, Foster walked up to introduce himself. The Miltons were then sold to stick around afterward, that the former Bruins great and six-year NFL veteran wanted to have a little chat.
“We were talking and (Foster) kind of slid it into the conversation,” Milton says. “Just in the middle of talking, ‘We’re going to offer you to come to UCLA.’ Like it was a regular thing.”
None of this is regular, of course, and wouldn’t be possible if not for Milton’s extraordinary talents.
It’s 2017, so the videos are right there on YouTube. Watch Milton cut back across the formation while dodging a half-dozen tackles en route to the end zone. Watch him recover a shotgun snap that sailed over the quarterback’s head, break toward the sideline and outrun the entire defense for an 80-yard touchdown.
“I told our coaches, ‘We should put that in the playbook,’ ” joked Chris McGrady, Milton’s seventh- and eighth-grade coach at Alta Sierra, where his teams went a combined 15-0.
“He is faster and stronger than everyone else on the field. He made some plays that were just unbelievable. The other coaches and I would just look at each other with dropped jaws.”
When Milton enrolled at Buchanan last fall, coaches nudged him to play varsity. Dad had other ideas.
“I said, ‘No, I want him to play freshman (football),’ ” Chris Milton says. “Because I honestly thought he’d go down there and get some work.”
Instead, Kendall hardly broke a sweat. In four games with the Bears freshman squad, he totaled nearly 1,000 yards with 18 touchdowns.
“It was just too easy,” Chris Milton says. “He looked bored.”
The following week, Milton joined the varsity and rushed for 109 yards and two touchdowns against Porterville. He finished with 478 yards and six scores despite a sprained ankle that hobbled him for a couple of games.
He’s got a really good head on his shoulders for how much talent he has. You see it a million times where kids will get big heads. Kendall’s not like that. He’s humble and he works hard.
Chris McGrady, Milton’s coach at Alta Sierra
“The biggest thing was the speed change,” Kendall Milton says. “Getting used to everyone flying around to the ball. Knowing that as soon as you get the ball everybody’s going to be there.”
Learning how to be the center of attention, whether by college coaches or in videos declaring Milton the No. 1 running back in the class of 2020, has required its own set of adjustments.
Soon after the BYU offer, the 13-year-old Milton had what dad calls “a mental breakdown.” People told him the offer meant he had to work even harder, train even harder, and the pressure became too much to bear. Things got to the point where Kendall said he didn’t want to play football anymore.
“From the outside looking in, it was like his childhood had just diminished,” Chris Milton says. “He was no longer a kid.”
It was a lot to take in, just everybody coming in and telling me how I had to do more now that I had a (scholarship) offer.
Milton broke out of that funk thanks to his family’s support and a talk from a good friend who reminded him of the ability with which he’d been blessed. Since then he’s learned how to cope with jealousies, expressed in the form of trash-talking or comments on social media.
And don’t get Dad started on the YouTube commentators who insist his son cannot possibly be his listed age and must have flunked three grades. When in fact he has a 3.4 GPA.
“There was a woman from (Fresno),” Chris Milton says. “She went in on him to the point where I almost had to lose my Christian behind checking her.”
The attention hasn’t been all negative. Last August, when Kendall attended a Fresno State autograph session to support his older brother, a few fans recognized him and asked he sign their posters. He’s also been stopped for random photo requests.
When Kendall Milton attended a Fresno State autograph session to support older brother Ka’Lonn, a few fans recognized him and asked he sign their posters.
“Walking down the street at a track meet I heard this kid, ‘Hey, can I take a picture with you?’ ” Milton says with a sheepish smile. “It was like, ‘What? We’re the same age.’ ”
“Theoretically, we’ve been planning for this,” Chris Milton adds. “This is why you cut film. This is why you bust your butt when everyone else is playing video games. But there’s nothing we could’ve done to prepare him for where he is at his age. No way in the world.
“It’s surreal walking places and seeing people pointing.”
In a perfect world, that sort of thing wouldn’t happen to kids like Kendall Milton. Fifteen-year-olds wouldn’t recognized in public, let alone be asked to sign autographs or take selfies with strangers. They’d be allowed to just be kids.
But that’s not the world we live in, something Milton and his family understand better than most.