BY DENNIS SILVA II | DENSILVA2@GMAIL.COM
A little more than two years ago, then-Tompkins incoming sophomore Jalen Milroe could not stop smiling.
A late morning July discussion with a reporter in Tompkins head coach Todd McVey’s office centered around Milroe’s potential. His intriguing background. His promising future. His raw, though obvious, natural skill.
Following an eye-opening two months in spring ball, Milroe was the unofficial projected starter for a Tompkins program that used three quarterbacks while going through a 2017 winless season.
“The MVP of smiling,” McVey acknowledged of his precocious youngster. “It’s contagious.”
At the time, McVey recalled his initial meeting with Milroe at WoodCreek Junior High, coming away impressed with his maturity and perspective. They were signs of what was to come.
“He wants this program to grow as we want it to grow, and he’s up to the challenge,” McVey admired.
Fast forward to now and Milroe is a highly touted four-star recruit, arguably the top quarterback in the state for the Class of 2021. The 6-foot-2, 192-pounder is as gifted of a talent as he is physically imposing.
Last season, Milroe completed 61.8 percent of his passes for 2,689 yards and 29 touchdowns to eight interceptions. He ran for 300 yards and seven more touchdowns. Under his stewardship, the Falcons have won 21 games over the last two years and qualified for the regional playoffs each season in the hotly-contested Class 6A, Division I classification.
“It’s a blessing,” Milroe said. “All thanks to God throughout this journey. Through the process, it’s a lot of hard work, grit and want-to. Commitment to the grind is important. Get one percent better each and every day and you’ll get to that 100 percent, and that 100 percent is your long-term goals—being successful as a program, winning the game that week. From when I got here to now, the commitment level from our guys has helped the success in the program.
“It had lacked commitment previous years before I got here. I give all thanks to the coaching staff, from Coach McVey to the training staff, and my teammates. It hasn’t been easy. Everything we’ve gone through, we’ve needed, and it shows in the success.”
Last week, Milroe raised more eyebrows, on a much greater scale, when he decommitted from Texas and verbally committed to Alabama on Aug. 17. Tuscaloosa was Milroe’s first college recruiting visit last summer. Milroe participated at a program camp and reaped the first-hand coaching from offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian and head coach Nick Saban. But he pushed back his commitment date, and another player committed to Alabama during that time. So, Milroe redirected and verbally committed to Texas on July 21, 2019.
“But during my commitment to Texas, Alabama kept recruiting me,” Milroe said. “When I sat down and thought about it, Alabama is outstanding. Coach Saban is Coach Saban. Coach Sark has NFL experience and has coached around the Division I level. It’s hard to miss. The class we had built at Texas for 2021 was the one real thing holding me back, and it was hard leaving that, but I had to do what was best for my future. Development-wise, I feel I can better myself at the University of Alabama.”
When five-star Southlake Carroll quarterback Quinn Ewers, the top prospect in the nation for the Class of 2022, verbally committed to Texas on Aug. 14, the thought crossed the minds of recruiting pundits about how that would affect Milroe. Milroe respectfully said he didn’t know who Ewers was, so “that didn’t factor into anything.”
“At the beginning of the week, I had already talked to my parents about committing to Alabama, and then he committed to Texas later that week,” Milroe said.
It was Alabama’s culture and system, along with Sarkisian and Saban, that won Milroe over.
“Playing in an offensive system that is pro style, Coach Sark is running a system that will be run in the NFL,” Milroe said. “My ultimate goal is to make it to the NFL, and I feel like I’ll be able to achieve that at Alabama. Texas’ offense is great, but development-wise being under Coach Sark and Coach Saban … it’s a better fit. And then throw in playing against the best in the nation in the SEC … that was definitely one of my goals growing up and now I’m able to achieve that.”
The Tide’s no-nonsense, disciplined ways were another attraction. Milroe comes from a military family—his father Quentin was a Marine who served in Iraq and his mother Lola was in the Navy.
The nomadic lifestyle has taken Milroe from his native California to Maryland, Houston and now Katy, which explains his ability to adapt to situations and people, and his craving for structure.
“It was important to me to find a family-like environment and a structured environment,” Milroe said. “Alabama has that. All of that matters. You can definitely see it through the success they have and how many players Saban puts through the draft. It’s certainly a different place.”
During this pandemic due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19, Milroe has arranged workouts with teammates while adhering to training programs put together by Tompkins coaches on the sportsYou app.
Milroe’s M.O. has been establishing relationships and chemistry with an inexperienced group of receivers following the graduation of six of the Falcons’ top seven pass-catchers. Milroe has been encouraged with the offseason work and effort of junior receivers Joshua McMillan II and Ashton Vazquez, sophomore receivers Drew Markle and C.J. Johnson, and senior receiver Nick May, among others.
As for himself, Milroe, who will graduate in December to join Alabama in January, is focused solely on Tompkins. His recruitment is closed.
“I have unfinished business at Tompkins,” he said.
In 26 games as a starter, Milroe, who considers himself a prototypical pure pocket passer who can make plays with his legs if necessary, has completed 59.2 percent of his passes for 4,093 yards and 39 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. He has rushed for 913 yards, on 4.8 yards per carry, and 17 touchdowns.
He said his greatest season has yet to come.
“Experience is the best teacher,” Milroe said of how he expects to be a better player in 2020. “I’ve been around the game now, so I know it well. From being on the field and in the film room, that all builds. Now the talk on our team is how we get past that third round. The Houston area has great competition and we keep learning. We’re trying to figure that out as a program, and it continues with preparation now. We’re fighting for that state championship.”