By GIUSEPPE UNGARO
Tim Watson’s decision to hand his football program’s offense to then-freshman Jesse Milza in 2013 showed great confidence in the young signal-caller.
The Cedar Creek High School quarterback has never made Watson regret the decision. The experience of starting from Day One was priceless for Milza, who gained valuable reps in practice, as well as learning from game situations. What benefited Milza also benefited the program, as Cedar Creek’s status under Milza only continued to soar.
That is what is important to Milza. The Pirates senior is more focused on being the best quarterback he can be while leading his team to wins and titles than he is about his own statistics. His legacy was already cemented last year, when, as a junior, he led the Pirates to a state championship, the first in the school’s brief history.
Milza led the Pirates back into the state championship this season, and a 10-2 record. Despite a 19-13 loss to West Deptford in the title game on Dec. 4, there is no doubt Milza has done enough to leave a benchmark for all future Pirates quarterbacks.
“To step back and look at his maturation process the past four years is awesome,” Watson said. “It’s a textbook of a kid who embodies what it takes to be a quarterback, going through lumps early in his career and making adjustments, learning every day in practice, putting him where he is today. He is a tremendously hard worker who wants to be a great quarterback.”
Milza passes the eye test when it comes to being a great quarterback, but he also has the numbers to back it up.
He has thrown for a Cape-Atlantic League and school record 6,802 yards to go along with 68 touchdowns. He set the record in the final regular season game this year, and only added to his total in three playoff games. He had more than 2,200 yards and 21 touchdowns in 12 games this season.
“When I came in as freshman, I knew I would have time to be able to do a lot in my career, but to get that in my final regular-season game is pretty awesome,” Milza said. “It means a lot. Our offense is going to go down in the record books.”
As good as the numbers are, what makes Milza a dangerous quarterback is his ability to make plays when it counts. It’s in those moments, the Galloway resident shows no fear in making any pass or even tucking it and running for a much-needed first down.
“During the playoffs (in 2015) he had one run in particular when he broke pocket and took a shot to get the first down,” offensive lineman Owen Bowles said. “I think it was against Haddonfield. He sold out for the first down, got hit hard and got back up. He was fired up. He put the team on his back at that moment.”
“That, to me, is why this is a perfect story of a kid who embodies what you want a quarterback to embody. He didn’t always do that his freshman and sophomore years. Those are mental toughness skills and grit as a quarterback that he has developed.” Watson explained. “These past two years he has become a clutch guy and you believe in him. You want the ball in his hands when things are tough, you trust his decisions. He has been every bit of that type of clutch guy for us.”
Milza has the accolades, stats, titles, and records to puff out his chest, but that’s not his style. If Milza brags at all, it will be about his teammates, coaches or school.
“I had (former quarterbacks coach Mike Isgro) teaching me for three years and I was always listening to him, and it isn’t about who gets the glory,” Milza said. “It’s cool having guys like Amir (Mitchell) come through and Bo (Melton) who I work well with. It definitely doesn’t make a difference who gets the glory. When I talk to people, I give the O-line shout-outs. I still get enough. Some guys who play O-line don’t get that much love.”
The love Milza gets is earned on and off the football field. He is the ultimate teammate, putting his teammates first and the success of the team before his individual stats.
“As a player he never gets frazzled, and if he makes a bad play he will respond as best as he can,” Bowles said. “He is not real vocal, but he will do his thing, rallying the troops. He’s Just a great teammate.”
Four years ago, Milza chose to attend Cedar Creek, a school that was very new and didn’t have an extensive athletic history at all. It was a decision he didn’t take lightly, but he said he made the choice.
“It was the best decision I ever made. The coaches are the most outstanding guys I ever been around,” Milza said. “They are the best coaches anyone could ask for, and coach Watson runs a great program. It’s a lot fun. The kids at Cedar Creek and the staff are awesome. I couldn’t ask for anything else.”
It looks like Milza and Watson both made the correct decision in 2013.
Contact Giuseppe Ungaro: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDgisepu
By GIUSEPPE UNGARO