Front and center: USC convinces Jozie Milton that his future is on offense

Offensive line commit from Louisiana is getting his first in-person look at USC this week

Special to GoGamecocksJuly 14, 2014 

— Jozie Milton begrudgingly gives into his father’s request and retrieves his car from the front of historic Silliman Institute and brings it around to the team’s locker room.

In a rural community of more than 1,600 where pick-up trucks are the norm, the hulking Milton drives a more gas-friendly white Impala that once belonged to his grandmother.

More startling than the 6-foot-3, 290-pound packed into his pride and joy is the sticker that adorns the back glass of Milton’s vehicle.

Nearly 30 minutes removed from Baton Rouge -- where LSU rules the roost in the state -- Milton has proven to be the exception when he committed to play football at South Carolina on May 16. He commemorated the occasion by slapping a mid-sized Gamecock logo squarely on his back window.

“I honestly never thought of South Carolina,” said Milton, who will play center in college. “I knew they were a good school, but I was sold on LSU just like every Louisiana kid is.”

Thanks to the persistence of defensive line coach Deke Adams, coupled with the vision of offensive line coach Shawn Elliott and charm of head coach Steve Spurrier, Milton has been sold on South Carolina for the past two months and plans to sign with the Gamecocks in February.

“I’m done,” Milton said of his recruiting process. “Coach (Spurrier) told me they wanted me to worry about Silliman right now. I’m going to listen and enjoy what I’ve got right now.”

For two years Milton beat the school camp and combine circuit, trying to position himself for what he hoped would be a windfall of scholarship offers.

Once the recruiting calendar flipped to 2014, that hard work and dedication began to slowly pay dividends when Milton picked up offers from Arkansas and Arizona State.

There were five unofficial visits to LSU, Mississippi State, Arkansas, Ole Miss and UL-Lafayette in February before the offers began to steadily stream in when Milton’s recruiting truly skyrocketed. There were eight offers in that month alone, with six of those taking place in one week and three in one day.

None of those included South Carolina or LSU.

“We’re a small-town football program,” Silliman football coach T.J. Davis said. “When someone like Jozie comes along and there’s extra attention it shows there’s local talent as well.”

South Carolina’s thought process was similar to all of the schools that had either offered or were interested in Milton, who now holds a hefty 33 offers. They saw a prospect with tremendous strength and powerful hands firing off the defensive line and were going to offer him at tackle – the position his father, Mike, had worked with him since the age of 5.

Milton was responsible for 101 tackles, including 28 for losses, with eight sacks, six forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries, which earned him the No. 2 spot on the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools’ Fab 15 in 2013.

With Adams breaking down Milton’s highlight tape and prepared to call with an offer, Elliott intervened and instead of defensive tackle, he saw someone with the requisite skills to play center.

“I was offered just off a highlight reel because they liked my film,” Milton said. “What they’ve told me is they liked how hard I played and that I played 100 miles an hour.”

Milton didn’t really warm up to the idea of taking South Carolina serious until a masterful recruiting job turned in by Adams and Elliott. They were able to sell Milton on the longevity of playing center and being part of a thriving program in the nation’s top conference.

Finally, while mowing grass on his family’s 100-acre farm in the middle of a scorching May afternoon, Milton called Elliott to commit and then shared his moment with Spurrier.

“I started thinking about South Carolina being in the SEC and having Coach Spurrier,” Milton said. “I thought, 'Why not?' They took a chance on me playing center and didn’t know if I could snap or not. They just basically wanted me on the team.”

Jozie’s father, who played defensive line at UL-Monroe, has embraced both his son’s decision and position change.

“I wanted him to stay a little closer to home,” Mike Milton said. “I was looking for SEC West but we’re happy with it now. They told Jozie he could be an All-American center. He liked hearing that.”

Milton was so convinced of South Carolina he sealed the deal sight unseen, not a common occurrence in today’s recruiting world of bright, shiny facilities.

Instead, a 1,500-mile round trip to Columbia this week awaits Milton and his family, including a stop in Myrtle Beach, to get a first-hand look at his home for the next four to five years.

“I don’t care about the materialistic things,” Milton said. “If I like you as a coach and you’re winning, I like you. I’m going to go through a wall for you.”

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