Magnificent Milons facing last game at Bama

During Thursday's Independence Bowl game versus Iowa State, senior wideout Freddie Milons will have a lot on his mind. But the Tide record holder admitted Wednesday there was one thing he'd try to block out. <br><br>"With all the games I've played, I never really thought I'd get (to my last game)," Milons said. "I try not to think about it. That would just increase my stress level.

"We're playing for our families and to represent The University. It's pressure that I try not to think about. I never thought this day would come since I was a freshman. I'm going into it hoping to have a great game. But the main thing when I take off that Crimson jersey is I want to be proud of my effort."

A legitimate star since a stellar sophomore season in which he helped spark the Tide to an SEC title, Milons and his talent won't soon be forgotten. "Anytime Freddie touches the football, something good could happen," Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione told the reporters gathered in Shreveport. "He's explosive and exciting with the football."

But for all of Milons' impressive offensive gifts, Franchione wanted to stress a different aspect of the senior's character. "The biggest thing that I would like to say about Freddie is that while he has had an outstanding senior season, he has always given to his team. He's has always put the team and winning ahead of any personal goals that he had."

Milons will be long remembered by Tide fans as one of the most explosive athletes to ever play for Alabama.

"We were playing Southern Miss and were ahead by seven (points) late in the game," Franchione continued. "We were going to run an option play into the boundary, and Freddie was going in motion and be the lead blocker. We called timeout to talk about it, and the guy that was challenging every player to make their block was Freddie. ‘I'm going to make mine. Are you going to make yours?'

"Freddie didn't get a reception or a touchdown, but the satisfaction that he got out of that play was just as rewarding. Our players have embraced being a team and moving the ball around."

Though his individual numbers have dropped somewhat in Franchione's multiple offense, Milons will finish his career as Alabama's all-time leader in receptions. In 44 career games, the Starkville, Mississippi native caught 152 passes for 1,859 yards and six touchdowns. That yardage total ranks him second, trailing only the great Ozzie Newsome.

Franchione spoke about Milons' impact on the team. "Freddie has had some outstanding games for us, and he'll be sorely missed in this program. In my year here, there has not been anybody that has practiced better than Freddie. He gets his teammates going."

Whenever a team changes coaching staffs, the transition can be difficult--especially for the seniors. But Franchione has consistently praised Milons as a positive force during those first months that the new staff and squad were adjusting to each other.

"Back last winter there were a lot of thoughts," Milons acknowledged. "We watched Coach Fran and his coaching staff. We saw them on television and knew their record. We looked at them and thought we had a legitimate shot at competing and taking the talent that was on this team and turning it around. We thought he would give us a chance to compete in the SEC.

"Then when he got here, he made it easy for us. He laid it out for us. He filled us in and laid out his entire plan."

In previous years Milons was never much for lifting weights during winter months, but he led the way in responding to his new head coach's challenge. "I think the main difference was the off season," Milons explained. "We committed ourselves to work over the summer with a program that was very stressful and strenuous.

"(2001) was a hard season, but we responded to the tough losses. We stayed together, and that put us in the position to play in the (Independence Bowl)."

"That's what really makes this bowl game so fun and so enjoyable," Milons continued. "The fact that we know what we paid for it. Like Coach Fran says, we came a long way."

The journey back started on the heels of a crushing defeat at the hands of LSU. But Milons and the other Tide leaders stepped forward to rally their teammates. "We didn't quit," he said. "A game like that can help bring a team together."

With a record of 3-5, Alabama was facing the almost unthinkable prospect of a second-straight losing season. But a fourth-quarter victory over Mississippi State set up what Milons saw as the Tide's finest moment.

Along with Saleem Rasheed, Milons was chosen to speak to the media at the final Independence Bowl press conference.

"Going into the Auburn game (at Jordan-Hare Stadium) many people were just laughing at us," he said. "They didn't give us any chance of actually competing against those guys. But after the game was over I looked up and saw all those empty seats in the stands. The only people there were our fans, chanting and cheering. I think the Auburn game was key. It was a great victory for the team and our university."

Bama followed that win with a 28-15 defeat of Southern Miss, giving Milons and the Tide a chance to go out winners. "That's the great thing about the (Independence Bowl)," he explained. "If we can win then a victory would really give the team confidence going into the off season."

The Tide players have talked all week about how important four straight victories would be to the program. But for that to happen they must first find a way to get by a tough Iowa State squad. At 7-4 the Cyclones sport a better record than Bama, and they also have the added incentive of making a name for their program against one of the top programs in college football history.

Iowa State led the Big 12 in turnover margin, averaging +1.09 per game. And 18 interceptions helped them to an impressive No. 4 national ranking in pass defense. "What concerns me about their defense is us not catching the football," Milons revealed. "Their secondary is known for making turnovers. My concern is us executing and concentrating."

Milons led Alabama in receiving this year with 36 receptions for 626 yards and three TDs. And the loss of Bama's No. 2 wideout, Antonio Carter, to academic problems will likely increase Milons' load even more.

But the Starkville native disdains the pressure. "It doesn't create any problems for me at all," Milons said. "Our offense is not designed to rely on just one person. We get everyone involved--all the receivers and the tight ends."

And choosing to concentrate on the positives, Milons is frankly looking forward to taking over Carter's former role as punt returner. "It's fun to be back there again," he said. "It gives me another way to help the team."

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