The University of Louisville football team has no shortage of weapons in its receiving corps. With the likes of Eli Rogers, Robert Clark, Kai De La Cruz, and first team all-AAC receiver DeVante Parker all returning for another year in Cardinal red, the program looks to have plenty of threats to bolster its passing game.
While any Cardinal fan is familiar with stalwarts like Parker- who led the team in touchdown receptions last season with 12-, Rogers- who has caught at least 40 passes in each of his first three seasons-, and De La Cruz- who emerged to catch three touchdowns last season before a season-ending injury-, they may be introduced to a new name before spring practice comes to a close.
Matt Milton, a redshirt senior for the Cardinals, appears to have skyrocketed up the depth chart since the beginning of the team's spring practice sessions, earning reps with the first team offense. This after catching one pass for the Cardinals in 2013- a six-yard reception against Florida International.
The use of Milton in head coach Bobby Petrino's offense sounds good in theory alone. Milton is a 6-foot-5, 205-pound target who towers over the cornerbacks who lineup opposite him, and looks every bit the part of a goal-line jump-ball threat. But theory aside, Milton has flat-out produced this spring. One of his best practices of March came on Saturday, when he got loose for three scores during the team's scrimmage.
The U of L coaching staff says that Milton's showcase this spring started with the improvements he's made this offseason. Both head coach Bobby Petrino and offensive coordinator Garrick McGee raved not only of Milton's physical tools, but his performance in the program's conditioning tests.
"We like Matt. He did a really good job in our testing," noted McGee. "He ran a really fast (40-yard dash) for a guy his size. He did a really good job in the weight room. That's when he started to impress us."
Milton has also impressed the new staff by his work in the meeting and film rooms, prompting McGee to tell Cardinal Authority that he has been impressed with Milton's desire to learn more about the position.
When talking about Milton, though, McGee can't help but to think about the advantage such a gifted athlete could provide the Cardinals come fall.
"When you've got a guy that tall and that long and he can run, he definitely can create some problems (for a defense) down field, jumping over guys and making catches."
Playing his high school football at Mascoutah High School in Belleville, Ill., Milton was ranked as the No. 20 wide receiver in the country as a senior, when he scored 20 touchdowns. He played his freshman and sophomore seasons at the University of Tennessee, making appearances in a handful of games but catching only one pass in his career as a Volunteer.
Milton transferred to U of L in 2012, and sat out the entire year because of the NCAA's rule on transfer athletes. He saw little time in 2013, and was actually almost dismissed from the team by former head coach Charlie Strong.
The departure of Strong to the University of Texas, and the subsequent return of Petrino, may have been the best thing that could have happened for Milton. The overhaul of coaching staffs has provided the senior with a fresh start- a clean slate free of prior judgement and stigma- and it appears Milton has made the most of that opportunity.
"He's worked hard, he worked hard in the weight room. He had a good offseason here," Petrino said. "I was really happy with that. And he's gotten better each day in practice."