The Wolverine

November 2020

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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16 THE WOLVERINE NOVEMBER 2020 BY JOHN BORTON J oe Milton won't face a single hostile sellout crowd this sea- son, thanks to COVID-19 inter- ference. That's a plus for a 6-5, 243-pound, stupendously skilled redshirt sopho- more, learning the college game on the job. He's already garnered one impor- tant lesson — even if the home crowd is cheering wildly, there's more work to be done. That point hit home last season. Mil- ton — then No. 3 on Michigan's quar- terback depth chart — fired a 23-yard touchdown pass to rookie receiver Giles Jackson in a home rout over Rut- gers. The crowd of 110,000 thundered its approval. Offensive coordinator Josh Gattis thundered something else. Michigan Radio sideline reporter Doug Karsch lingered close by when Gattis' in-the-moment instruction cut through the deafening revelry of The Big House. "He comes to the sidelines and im- mediately, Josh Gattis gets in his face," Karsch recalled. "He's telling him, 'Yeah, it worked out, but that's not where you need to put that football.' "While everyone else is congratu- lating him and the stadium is going crazy and there are high fives, Gattis is in his face, coaching him. He's let- ting him know, even though that was a touchdown, that's not what you're supposed to do. "I like the way he's been coached. It's probably the kind of thing you can get away with against a lesser oppo- nent, but down the road, when you're facing better opponents — which he's about to — can he make that right play?" Michigan fans, and the college foot- ball world, are about to find out. When reporters pestered him about a possi- ble transfer while he stood third on the depth chart, Milton quietly dismissed them and assured he was staying. When April passed with no spring football, and summer speculation nudged the starting job toward the more-experienced Dylan McCaffrey, Milton didn't make much noise. Those around him saw him offering up little more than an even-tempered we'll see. September saw McCaffrey put his name into the transfer portal, with the intention to leave after his graduation. October appears ready to unveil Mil- ton as Michigan's starting quarterback. Throughout the journey, Milton never stopped working. He labored like a third-string hopeful when he was third string, and he continues do- ing so while on the verge of capturing the most spotlighted position in col- lege athletics. He sought input at every turn, tak- ing it in with humility and begging for more. It's about to pay off in striking fashion. THE MEASUREABLES ARE MAMMOTH Striking most accurately describes the look of Michigan's towering signal- caller. At 6-5, the Pahokee, Fla., native towered over opponents and team- mates at Orlando's Olympia High School. Even now, he looks up to team- mates only in figurative terms. Jalen Mayfield, the 6-5, 320-pound offensive tackle who will be protecting Milton, can only look him square in the eye. "When we first came in, just walking up to him, you wouldn't think the guy plays quarterback," Mayfield recently told the Big Ten Network. "He's a big dude, very talented, very athletic. "But what I've seen over the past three years is a guy who wants to be great, to be the best. The amount of work he's put in from when he first got here to now is remarkable. He's pushed everybody to be their absolute best. I'm just glad to have him as quar- terback and a leader on our team." Karsch also found himself tripped up trying to identify Milton by posi- tion in the early going. "I've seen him on the road with the team, at the team hotel," Karsch said. "I would think to myself, I know just about the whole team, but who is this kid? "I'd catch myself — oh, that's right, that's Milton. He's so big that I would confuse him for a defensive lineman. I know what Joe Milton looks like. But when I'd see him, my brain would in- stantly go to D-lineman. He wasn't bulky enough to be an offensive line- man. "It was always rattling in my brain as to which defensive end this was. He's a quarterback." Everybody knows he's a QB when No. 5 unleashes a 70-yard bomb down- field, turning heads and burning de- fenders. Even former Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer — now a FOX Sports analyst — gave it up for the third-year Wolverine. "I would always just kind of walk over and start looking at their person- nel, and I was like, 'Who is that cat?'" Meyer recalled. "That is a Cam New- ton lookalike, he's got a hose and he can run." Milton remains determined to do more than look good in a Michigan uniform. He's demonstrated over and over an assiduous determination to become great, to perfect his craft and to let nothing get in the way of success. Those who have seen him the most know it best. INPUT ON OVERDRIVE Michigan features enough quarter- back coaches in Schembechler Hall to let everybody go one-on-one with the current scholarship QBs. Start with head coach Jim Harbaugh, who starred as Michigan's signal-caller in the mid-1980s, then went on to play GRINDING TOWARD GREATNESS Joe Milton's Skills And Commitment Render Him Ready Milton was No. 3 on the quarterback depth chart last year, but rose up the ranks and surpassed the older and more experienced Dylan McCaffrey, prompting the latter to put his name in the transfer portal this summer. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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