Milus sets tone in Arizona title win


GLENDALE, Ariz. -- As the football came his way end over end, the endless teachings of Ryan Milus' father ran through his head.

Approximately 11 seconds later, Milus was celebrating with his Hamilton (Chandler, Ariz.) teammates on their way to the Class 5A Division I Arizona state championship at University of Phoenix Stadium on Friday.

"If you split two of them [defenders], you got all of them," Milus said Friday night at the University of Phoenix Stadium. "That's what my dad always tells me."

Milus' kickoff return for a score, his second of the playoffs, proved to be the difference in a 17-10 win over defending state champion Brophy (Phoenix).

Hamilton (13-1) came out of halftime leading 10-0, in part because Milus, the 5A-I 100-meter champ, ended Brophy's final first-half drive with an interception, before he took the opening kickoff back 96 yards for a 17-0 lead.

"It was huge and it set the tone," Hamilton coach Steve Belles said. "And as you saw, we needed it."

Milus' father, Ron, is the secondary coach for the St. Louis Rams and has nine years of coaching experience in the NFL. In his playing days, the elder Milus was a standout cornerback and return specialist for the University of Washington from 1982-85.

So he knows a little bit about what his son goes through every Friday night, and after Ryan sends his game tape to his dad, they go over the good and bad by phone.

"He helps with my technique, but he is usually telling me to tackle better," Ryan said.

But this week, the elder Milus didn't have to watch the game film to know his son changed the complexion of the game with his return.

"He surprised me and made it to the game," said Ryan, a University of Arizona recruit. "He yelled to me from the stands, and it made me play that much harder."

That was evident when Milus, whose position coach is former NFL player Anthony Parker, had the key interception that ended Brophy's last drive before the half. The Hamilton defense kept Brophy off balance all half, but started to get into a rhythm in the final minutes before the 5-foot-10, 165-pound cornerback stepped in front of the receiver for his third interception of the season.

"I tell you what, he gutted it out [because of leg cramping]," Belles said. "The defense was the MVP of this game, and he was a big part of that."

After the intermission, Milus showed off his 100-meter speed (10.56 seconds), getting touched by one Brophy defender on his way to the end zone.

"You can't give a guy like that an opportunity," Brophy coach Scooter Molander said. "He's not a 100-meter champion for nothing."

Milus has been displaying his speed all season when given the chance.

He ranks in the top 50 on several scouting services among cornerbacks entering the college ranks next year. Most offenses throw away from him after five interceptions last season, and he has a reputation as one of Arizona's shutdown corners.

"I'm a lot better than I was last year," he said. "Between my dad and Coach Parker, they know pretty much everything about being a DB, so I soak that up as much as I can."

It has Milus covering a lot of routes that quarterbacks don't even consider in their progressions.

But he has made up for the lack of action in other ways.

Milus has blocked three field goals and a punt coming off the edge this season, and since taking over kickoff duties when the incumbent went down with an injury, he averaged 32.3 yards on eight returns before the championship game.

That's because Milus knows he has to make the most of his touches.

"Maybe once or twice a game," said Milus, who had scholarship offers from seven other schools, including Boise State, Fresno State and Washington State. "You better take advantage."

Milus nearly had another kickoff return for a touchdown in the state semifinals, but was caught from behind after being slowed down by the kicker.

It didn't sit very well, so when Milus got another chance, only one thing entered his mind while waiting on that ball to land in his arms.

His dad's words.

"I was just trying to give a boost to our team," he said. "I knew if we got a quick score it was going to be hard for them to come back. I saw a small little crease that I snuck through, and I hit it full speed.

"After that, it's like he says -- once you split two, you got 'em all."

Jason Skoda is a freelance writer in Arizona.