May 14, 2009
(12:51 p.m.): Midway through spring camp, after a post-practice meeting with reporters, Brian Kelly was asked about redshirt freshman Danny Milligan. Where does he stand? Will he have a chance to play?
The answer the UC coach gave wasn't all that encouraging. He'll have a chance to make the traveling team, Kelly said. A chance to get on the bus. He can be a nice player, maybe do some work on special teams. But as far as competing for a starting position as a receiver, place-kicker or punter? Probably not.
That was the implication anyway.
But here's the great thing about spring football. All it takes is one standout performance, one really good day, and everything can change.
For Milligan, it came during the UC spring game. All it took was for Milligan, running a pass pattern, to get through the defensive secondary, catch quarterback Zach Collaros' eye, haul in the long pass and run into the end zone for the 65-yard touchdown.
A play like that could turn Milligan from a third-string utility player into a Bearcat with a chance to make an impact. For players like Milligan, that's the beauty of spring football.
"I just know if I keep working hard and doing the right things, I'm going to be in there," said the former St. Xavier standout. "Whatever I have to do - whether it's kicking field goals, punting or just catching the football - I'll be glad to get on the field some how, some way."
The spring game for the established players is an exercise in doing just enough not to get injured. Starting quarterback Tony Pike wore the no-contact jersey. Mardy Gilyard was injured but didn't have to worry about losing his receiving spot. Defensive backs Brad Jones and Aaron Webster looked to solidify their hold as senior starters next year.
For Milligan, though, it was one last chance to impress somebody who determines how much he plays.
"He does a great job," Kelly said. "Every time you turn around, he has his hands on the ball and he's making some kind of play. He's an exciting player and he can help us win. We thought that when we recruited him. We didn't recruit him because we thought he could kick extra points. We thought he could catch the ball."
It's what he did in the spring game, recording three receptions for 83 yards and the touchdown score while kicking two field goals, including a 42-yarder. He was the leader in receiving yards on the day. Though he missed a 51-yard-field goal, he showed his ability as a kicker.
Pike could see the potential last year. Even when Kelly said Milligan would struggle to earn playing time, Pike thought Milligan could be a solid participant. As long as he continues to put in the hard work.
"He was doing it on the scout team, and it's about consistency for him right now," Pike said after the spring game. "You put the ball in his hands, and he makes plays. The biggest thing is Danny is going to give it his all every day and I think the coaches are seeing that a little bit. You saw that tonight.
"The biggest thing is learning the position. There's so much. It's not just knowing, `OK, I do this on a route.' It's knowing what you do if the coverage changes. Hopefully, in the summer we can work on that and see him a little bit in the fall."
Another aspect working in Milligan's favor is his versatility. If Jake Rogers fails in his place-kicking and punting duties, Milligan is the one who could push him in practice - or replace him altogether. But the spring game showed Milligan something else. It showed him that he could make an impact at the receiver position. He also showed the coaches how he performs when there's something - perhaps playing time - on the line.
"I think they know that," Milligan said. "They saw me play in high school, and I think scrimmage-wise, I'm right there with everybody. I'm doing my job. I think they know I can play. Hopefully, I can just get that trust."