Santa Monica High School football Coach Tebb Kusserow, who likes to stress the importance of seniority, knew that it would be hard to replace the 28 seniors lost to graduation. Only a handful of starters returned this fall from last year's 7-2-1 team, and they inherited the responsibility of providing leadership and inspiration to the younger players.
His starting tailback, Glyn Milburn, is a shy, soft-spoken senior, not the type who would lead student chants at pep rallies. While most coaches prefer their leaders to be rah-rah, Kusserow started the season with a leader who specializes in the silent treatment.
Two weeks into the season, people are appreciating the sound of silence.
Milburn, once as anonymous on the field as he was off it, broke into the starting ranks in a big way, rushing for 241 yards and 3 touchdowns on 28 carries in a 26-0 win over Saint Paul of Santa Fe Springs.
Last Friday, Milburn stole the spotlight again, scoring 5 touchdowns to spark a 48-42 comeback victory over Palisades.
Suddenly Milburn is being noticed. Opposing coaches are placing him in the same class as Crespi's Russell White, considered by many to be the best running back in the state. Milburn is averaging 202.5 yards per game rushing, White 169.
"He's really quick, elusive, tough as hell," Palisades Coach Jack Epstein said. "He's one of the best backs in the CIF. He doesn't go down, and we laid some hits on him."
Milburn's emergence has been abrupt. He started at cornerback as a junior but on offense understudied senior tailback Mark Jackson.
What Milburn learned from Jackson is a tribute to Kusserow's seniors-first philosophy. Of Jackson, Milburn said: "He would tell me, 'Next year will be your year. You're going to have to do it because they're going to be inexperienced and you have to show them. If you want to win, you have to do it yourself.'
"It's a lot different being a senior than being a junior. When you're a junior, you play sort of a subservient role."
Milburn has done more than enough to inspire teammates. Some call him the "meal ticket."
"He's very quiet, but he's a tremendous leader by example," Kusserow said. "Everybody knows about his gifts, but he doesn't talk about them."
Whatever Milburn may lack in glibness, he overcomes with ability. At 5-9 and 160, he is a speedy, slashing runner. His smallish, durable frame allows him to crash through enemy lines, and his sprinter's speed (4.5 in the 40-yard dash) helps him accelerate past defenders.
"Some tailbacks are strong 100-yard runners, but they take 50 or 60 yards to get going," Kusserow said. "The fastest part of Glyn's 100 is his start. He has extreme quickness from his point of origination."
Milburn is a sprinter on the track team with an interesting tie to the sport. His second cousin, Rod Milburn, was a world record holder and 1972 Olympic champion in the hurdles. So what goes through his mind as he uses that speed to bolt past defenders? Scoring a touchdown? A college football career?
"I'm just being thankful that I got a chance to run," he said. "I'm just thanking everybody that made it happen when I'm running. It's all going through my head at once."
His teammates may soon reward that gratitude. Many of the team's newcomers are following their leader and show signs of rapid improvement.
"His linemen are young and they're learning," Kusserow said. "If everybody stays healthy, you'll see a tailback that can do more things than anyone you'll ever see."
And his fame is growing. Against Palisades, he carried the ball 38 times and drew special attention from the Dolphins, who purposely kept all punts and kickoffs away from him.
"He has the gift of speed and deceptive moves, but he has the heart and determination to run through the line," St. Paul Coach Miguel Olmedo said. "He impressed me in the second half. He seemed to get stronger as the game went on, even though we were keying on him."
Milburn's work ethic is evident off the field as well. He has a 3.7 grade-point average and, at age 16, is a year ahead of students his age.
"A lot of it comes from within," said his mother, Jessie Hammock. "He doesn't settle for anything less than an A. He's interested in winning and it's ingrained in him."
His interests are in business and computers, but he has no intention of giving up football. He would prefer to attend a university strong in academics and football--like Stanford--but Ivy League schools have also expressed interest in him.
"They don't expect football players to be in pre-calculus," he said. "They sort of look at you and say, 'Glyn, you're in here?' "
As quiet as he may be, he gets no such questions in the offensive huddle.