Every athlete has his own little ritual. Seneca Milledge tosses a brick to himself.
The Dunbar freshman, who has yet to catch a pass for the Tigers, says it helps him improve grip strength and makes the football feel “very soft and like you can just squeeze it and bust it.”
You may know him as an accomplished young sprinter. He’s the former eighth-grader who ran a 10.76-second, 100-meter dash for Olympia Track Club at the Florida Middle School Championships last year. He ran sub-11 second time as a seventh grader for Varsity Lakes Middle, too.
But now? The 5-foot-6, 150-pounder is quickly making the rounds on the football field, where he’s scored three touchdowns in two games for the Tigers. He scored on his first two touches from scrimmage in the team’s preseason game against Golden Gate.
He followed with an 80-yard kickoff return for a score against Ida Baker, where he diagnosed the play in seconds, then froze the Bulldogs with one quick burst through the gap.
“As the ball was kicked to me, I was thinking touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, because that’s all I think when the ball is in my hands,” he said.
The reason Milledge made varsity isn’t just because of his speed –- though it makes a huge difference. Tigers head coach Phil Vogt said he also has a knack for taking a hit.
“A lot of times we get those freshmen. The term I like to use is ‘They haven’t really had their bobo stroked yet,’” Vogt said. “In his case, he’ll drop his pads. He’s not afraid of contact.”
That comes from a childhood of playing football. Milledge started when he was 9, following in the footsteps of his older brother, who played at Cypress Lake. His mother, Victoria Campbell, ran track, so he began doing the same when he was 11.
Over the last few years, his name has blossomed there. He helped Varsity Lakes win middle school track championships. He scored a national record for his age in the long jump at the AAU Club National Championships in July 2014. He placed second in the 100 at the Florida Middle School Championships in May.
Some have asked for his birth certificate a meets. Others often have the look of bewilderment.
“I just think of it and that’s the time I hit,” Milledge says of his races.
With football, his think so do mentality has worked well for him so far, too. The Dunbar (1-0) freshman wasted no time running for 156 yards in his first game.
“Unfortunately for other teams and fortunately for us, they have to get used to his speed of in the game,” Vogt said. “So there’s no substitute for that. That’s a God-given gift.”
But there’s only one small problem. Milledge doesn’t want to be known only as the guy who can outrun opponents. He wants to become the kind of player who outruns you, then makes the play on the ball, like his idol, Fort Myers native and Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
Is he there yet?
“He’s learning the nuances of the game as we want it,” Vogt said. “He’s learning the way we want him to route run, the way we want him to line up.”
Wide receiver coaches Chris Singleton and Derek Jackson, former Division I defensive backs, work with Milledge on the subtleties of the game. Juniors Tariq Thomas and Kenny Benjamin have been especially helpful as veteran leaders, too.
“I try to tell him when coaches talk to him to listen, it’s for the best,” Benjamin said. “And more just, get going. When you get it, go. He has the speed, so hit it.”
It’s no secret that when Milledge gets the ball, plays happen. Both of his scoring plays against Golden Gate came from his starting position in the slot. On his second hand-off, he looped around a defensive end before shooting across the sideline untouched. But Dunbar hasn’t let him loose just yet. His snap counts in games have been limited, simply for the fact that he’s still learning.
Vogt said he’s likely going to utilize the freshman at receiver, running back, on kick returns and even at defensive back. For what it’s worth, the Tigers have plenty of depth with Thomas, Benjamin, Jatravian Wiggins and Jeremiah Rice at receiver.
“We don’t want to overload his sense in teaching him two sides of football at once,” Vogt said.
But for his part, Milledge is trying to soak everything in.
And then when he gets home, he takes the brick and tosses it in the air