He's got a new attitude

Two touches. 160 yards. Two trips to "the house" (football vernacular for the end zone). Not a bad day for Tide senior playmaker Freddie Milons. In Monday's final full-scale scimmage, Milons took a kick back 99 yards for a score. Later, he pulled in a downfield pass from Tyler Watts, turned it up, and completed a 61-yard scoring play.

"It felt good to do something," said a smiling Milons after the scrimmage. "I felt if I could give a little spark it might rub off on my teammates."

Florida head football coach Steve Spurrier grimaces when you ask him about Milons. "Two years ago he had a big run against us in the (SEC) championship game. Oh, he's a good player. He's a good talent."

Spurrier quickly tries to change the subject, with words like "You'll need to ask someone else. We don't play them this year. I'm not a defensive coach. You need to ask a defensive coach." But Spurrier won't soon forget the game-breaking, reverse-the-field run Milons had against the Gators in the 1999 SEC title tilt in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. That 77-yard jaunt earned him MVP honors for the game, Bama's second win over Florida that season.

Gator safety Todd Johnson remembers too well the two game performance Milons had versus his team when both were sophomores. Milons piled up 281 all-purpose yards in a UA win in Gainesville and the conference title game. "Fast. 'Fast Freddie.' That's what they call him," noted Johnson. "He's just fast, and he can play. A deep threat. I remember him running about 80 yards for a touchdown and pretty much breaking all of us down."

As a senior and one of the legitimate all-stars on the team, Milons expects to be a leader on the year's squad.

Those performances against Florida were just part of a stellar sophomore campaign that saw Milons break David Palmer's school record for receptions with 65. He racked up 733 yards and two scores receiving , and tacked on 237 yards on kickoff returns, and 282 and one score on punt runbacks. He rushed for 178 yards and another score.

There was All-American and Heisman talk heading into his junior season last year, but 2000 would see the Tide and Milons go into the tank. The team went 3-8, Milons fought injuries and bad attitude rumors, and wouldn't speak to the press for weeks. His receptions were cut in half to 32, for 287 yards. Other than a shining moment against UCLA where he brought a punt back 71 yards on national televsion in a loss to UCLA, his kick returns fell off. Many said his attitude did, too.

Maybe so. But that's changing.

His teammates have noticed. So has his head coach. The former Starkville High star and current Tide senior is approaching his senior season with a different outlook.

On life. Football, too.

"He's been great. Great attitude, great practice habits, worked very hard, had a smile on his face every day," said first-year 'Bama head coach Dennis Franchione of his senior star.

"He knows its his last go-round, and he's working hard," said junior quarterback Tyler Watts, who is credited with throwing the block that sprung Milons on the long run to beat the Gators.

"Guys like me and the other seniors on the team, we're putting a lot of pressure on the young guys, just letting them know that we need maximum effort in all phases of the game and maximum effort from each individual hopefully, everyone will do their part and we can be very good," said Milons of his role as a senior leader. "When I was a freshman, I came in and Fernando Bryant was a senior leader. My sophomore year, it was Chris Samuels and Shaun Alexander. Last year, a guy from my home state, (Meridian's and current New Orleans Saint) Kenny Smith. Watching those guys, and watching how they viewed their senior years, and how they wanted to go out. It kinda hurt me to see Kenny and guys like that (last year) go out with such a bad season. If you show everybody that you're working hard, the young guys will follow your lead, and there will be success down the road."

This photo taken last fall during practice almost encapsulates the season. After getting off to a fast start via a punt-return touchdown versus UCLA, the year went steadily downhill from there for Milons.

Just this week, after watching the young offensive line struggle, Milons decided to show some senior leadership. "Guys like Dante (Ellington), Alonzo Ephraim, Marico Portis...it starts up front. I talked to them and reminded them of that."

Milons won the "Jerry Duncan I Like To Practice" award in the spring, which was voted on by his coaches. In the weight room, he set the UA school record for wide receivers in the hang and clean with a lift of 330 pounds.

For one thing, he likes the new coaching situation at Alabama. For another, he likes his chances of having a breakout senior season, more like 1999 than 2000. "The main thing is to win. Whatever it takes to win," he said of the philosophy of Franchione. "That's his philosophy, and that's ours."

Milons showed a witty side, too. Asked by ESPN's Tim Brando what he would like to ask Franchione were Milons a member of the media, Milons grinned and said, "Me personally, I would probably ask him who's his hairstylist."

"With the NCAA, that's the thing I like about coach Franchione," Milons said. "He asks us to do one thing: that's focus on football, and let him worry about the NCAA. That's that we do our part in that we worry about the football part and we really don't get involved with the NCAA because we have no control over that."

Like many Tide fans, the coaching change in Tuscaloosa has Milons looking forward to a reversal of fortunes record-wise, and personal performance-wise.

Milons warns observers not to be lulled by the reputation Franchione has as an option or run-first coach. "I feel like we have the playmakers at the wide receiver position," he said. "and we might throw the ball. You never know. You never can tell. We're gonna make sure we do our part this year to make the plays that we didn't make last year and turn this year around."

His opponents have always known Milons was a threat to "take it to the house." "Just one of the most versatile football players in the Southeastern conference. Great explosiveness. Speed. He can do so many things, he creates a problem for every defense that he faces," said Ole Miss head coach David Cutcliffe.

"He's really quick. He's a great receiver, " said Rebel cornerback Syniker Taylor. "Unfortunately he had injuries last year and didn't get to have the season to have, but man! We're going to have to be on our toes when we play him because he's quick on the ball, he's got good hands, and the quarterback can get it to him. We're looking forward to getting out there and playing against somebody as competitive as him."

Jackie Sherrill concurs. "Freddie is a great offensive player. You give him the ball, and its hard to tackle him," said the veteran Mississippi State coach who recruited Milons hard out of SHS in 1998. "Now, don't ask Freddie to do things he can't do. Freddie's not a defensive player. Freddie's not gonna go out and slap you, and knock you down. But, Freddie is a great offensive player."

Shown going through receiving drills in practice, Milons is being counted on by the new staff as a ‘playmaker' this season.

Phil Fulmer's sold, too. "Freddie is a tremendous talent," says the head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers after three meetings with Milons. "Obviously, a gifted athlete. He's been quite the competitor. Can be a difference maker in the Southeastern Conference. Tackling him is usually the biggest problem that you have. He's a great runner with his hands on the football."

"Tremendous athlete. Anytime he's got the ball underneath his arm, he's gonna make plays with it," said Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville, who's faced Milons three times, once at Ole Miss and two on the plains. "You always hope you can keep it out of his hands. They put him on kickoff return, punt return. He had a little bit of a down year last year because the offense really didn't fit what his talents were but (he's an) explosive player. He's a guy that can make a good play out of a bad play, and that's what you're always looking for in a skill player."

Milons' new head coach tends to agree. "He's certainly a guy that we know can make plays for us," said Franchione. "He's one guy that we know we have to get the ball too as many ways as we can, and x amount of times during a game. I can see it being kicked off to him, punted to him, handed to him, thrown to him and any other way we can get it to him."

Will Milons line up behind center as he has on several occasions in the past for the Tide? "I wouldn't eliminate that thought," smiled Franchione.

For most of the past three seasons, Alabama's opponents have been doing just that: "look out" for Milons. Wherever he lines up, and whenever he gets the ball, a trip to "the house" (end zone) could be soon to follow. And this year, Milons plans to prove to friend and foe alike that the real "Fast Freddie" was the one they saw in 1999, not 2000. Are he and his Tide teammates hungry to prove they're more like the 10-3 SEC Champions of 1999 than the 3-8 strugglers of 2000?

"We're starving! We're very hungry. We can't wait, but we're also patient. We're going to focus on Sept. 1 (when the Tide opens with UCLA in Tuscaloosa)," said Milons.

Doubters can contact Steve Spurrier for more info.


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