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Going the Extra Mile

While the position of quarterback seems to suit Josh Milhollin just fine these days, that wasn't always the case for the senior at South Medford High.

There was a time when basketball was Milhollin's sport of choice, and few could have predicted what level he would reach in football.

"I really wasn't anything special in football up until my freshman year," admits the 6-foot-4, 185-pounder. "But things just started clicking and my instincts finally just kind of took over."

It's all been a steady process for Milhollin, who now ranks among the best quarterbacks in the state. He's holding an offer to play football at Portland State, and who knows how many other schools will come calling thanks to his impressive run with the Panthers.

"We have one of the best athletes in the state playing quarterback for us," says South Medford head coach Bill Singler. "This is a 6-4 kid that's tall and rangy and can run and is a 6-7 high jumper. I don't think we've fully turned him loose this year but he's surely showing his capability in the pocket as a quarterback and as someone who can roll out and throw on the run and also make big plays in the run game with his legs."

Milhollin passed for 2,285 yards and 21 touchdowns a year ago in leading the Panthers to the Class 6A state quarterfinals, but all evidence shows he's a much more complete signal-caller this season. Whereas he completed 54 percent of his passes (151 of 278) in 2008 with 12 interceptions, thus far he's finding receivers at a 66-percent clip (46 of 70 for 582 yards) and has yet to be picked off.

"I think he's more comfortable, obviously, because he's got a year of experience under his belt," says Singler. "He's also worked very hard in the offseason on his quarterback fundamentals and that certainly has paid off as well."

Milhollin first began to recognize his potential at quarterback when, as a freshman, he took part in the Barton Football Academy in Portland led by Greg Barton and his son Taylor.

"I just remember my second week up there and Taylor Barton said with some fundamentals, it'd be dangerous how good you could be," recalls Milhollin. "I didn't really believe it because I loved basketball at the time and no one had ever really said that to me. That's when it really got into my head that I could be prepping for something in football."

Milhollin really put the time in to get better through his sophomore campaign, and has taken it up several notches ever since. You name a football skills camp and Milhollin likely was there this past summer.

On one amazing stretch, the 18-year-old standout returned from the Gold Beach camp, rested for a couple days and then went to Hillsboro for the Nike Combine and to Eugene for two more camps. Not done yet, over the weekend Milhollin then traveled to Boise, Idaho, for the Boise State team camp, made a side trip to Moscow, Idaho, for the University of Idaho camp and got back in the car to hit the Linfield camp in McMinnville.

And that doesn't even include a stint at the Portland State camp, where he obviously made a big impression on the Viking coaches.

"It was a lot but it was so beneficial, though," says Milhollin. "I learned more in that weekend or so than I have learned in all my years playing quarterback, and just competing with all that different talent was amazing. I was tired afterwards, but it really helped me prepare for this year."

In particular, Milhollin says he picked up a couple tips along the way that he believes has really made a difference in his throwing mechanics. He credits legendary former Ashland High coach Jim Nagel with tweaking his throwing motion to help generate a quicker release, and the quarterback coaches at Portland State and Idaho for offering some tips to improve his accuracy.

"Just little things they saw, like the way I was holding the ball and how I was following through after the ball left my finger tips, really made a difference," he says.

Milhollin says he initially was a little skeptical about his senior season given the roster overhaul the Panthers went through in the offseason, but those concerns were appeased over the summer and he's been very impressed with how South Medford has maintained its offensive proficiency.

"That was a lot of experience to lose but the guys have responded really well," Milhollin says. "I'm obviously a little biased but I think our offensive line is the top in the state and our receivers have really worked their butts off. We've also got a great one-two punch with Mario Sainez and Kevin Gilmore at running back."

Through three games against quality opponents like West Salem, Lake Oswego and Sprague, the fifth-ranked Panthers are averaging almost 358 yards of total offense. After a long layoff, they take a 2-1 record into Friday's home game against Lincoln.

"What's fun about this is I don't even think we've begun to tap our potential this year," says Milhollin. "We've seen bits and pieces of what we can do, but we've yet to play a full game on offense, defense and special teams."

For his own part, Milhollin is coming off one of his strongest performances. When South Medford played at No. 3 Sprague on Sept. 18, he completed 23 of 30 passes for 251 yards and three TDs and ran for another score in the 39-34 loss.

"That was as good of a throwing exhibition by a quarterback as I've ever seen in the state, and I don't usually like to talk up our guys like that," says Singler. "He threw the ball exceptionally and very accurate in that game. Kids had the ball in a position where they didn't have to contort their bodies to make the catch, the balls were pretty much right there for them. He was on the money."

As nice as it is to be praised, Milhollin says he would trade his individual success for a win that night. It's an ego-free trait that served him well a season ago, and will certainly make any future coach very happy.

"I know my individual success comes from the team success," he says. "And as long as that's ensured, then I'm good."

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com

Senior quarterback Josh Milhollin has excelled so far this season after a rigorous offseason workout schedule. Through three games, Milhollin has thrown for 582 yards and has yet to be picked off while completing 66 percent of his passes. - Jamie Lusch