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Running Right : Santa Ana's Lee, Santa Monica's Milburn Move in Fast Company

November 27, 1987|ELLIOTT TEAFORD | Times Staff Writer

One was a 15-year-old sensation who ran his team to the Southern Conference championship as a sophomore.

The other, who despite ripping off a 64-yard touchdown the first time he carried the ball, languished on the bench as a junior running back.

As a sophomore, Robert Lee of Santa Ana High School gained 602 yards and scored 4 touchdowns in four playoff games as the Saints beat Mission Viejo, 31-21, to win the 1985 championship.

As a junior, Glyn Milburn played only occasionally, despite showing flashes of what was to come. At Santa Monica, where seniors play and juniors and sophomores sit and wait, Milburn was talented enough to earn a starting position at defensive back last season.

Though they have arrived from different directions, both are now star running backs as seniors. Lee and Milburn will match moves on the Santa Monica College field tonight when Santa Ana plays Santa Monica in the Southern Conference quarterfinals at 7:30.

Lee's travails have been well chronicled.

Sophomore season: Superb athlete is injured early in year. Starts out on sophomore team. Is called up after five games. Becomes instant hit on varsity. Runs for 231 yards as Santa Ana wins title.

Junior season: Comes into season weighing 250 pounds. Struggles. Averages 38 yards a game. Regains form. Averages almost 200 yards in last nine games. Leads Santa Ana into final again. This time Saints lose, 26-10, to El Toro.

Senior season: Comes into season at a svelte 190. Leads Santa Ana to Century League title. Saints (10-1) are top-seeded in conference playoffs. Runs for 134 yards in first-round victory over Irvine. Has 1,216 yards heading into tonight's game.

Dick Hill, Santa Ana coach, put it best, though a tad understated: "Robert Lee is a fine football player."

Hill knew a good thing when he saw one.

"After my freshman season, Coach Hill came up to me and told me he wanted me up on varsity," Lee said. "I was scared. Those (varsity) boys were too big, too old and too strong."

Lee ran on, undeterred by his own doubts, even as teams began to focus on trying to stop him. Most such efforts failed, and the Saints won.

"It was much easier then (as a sophomore)," Lee said. "Because people didn't expect that much out of me.

"Nobody keys on me now, though. We have too many other good players. It's taken them long enough, though."

Milburn's story is still unfolding.

On the first play of the first game this season against St. Paul, Milburn, who stands 5-feet 9-inches and weighs 165, took a handoff and zoomed 90 yards for a touchdown.

Between the moment he touched the ball back in September and the present, Milburn has broken one Southern Section record and is threatening another.

His four-touchdown performance in last week's 28-0 victory over Dominguez gave him 37 for the season, a section record. He passed Mickey Cureton of Centennial, who had 36, Steve Grady of Loyola (35) and Aaron Emanuel of Quartz Hill (33).

He ranks fourth nationally behind Mike Atkinson of Princeton, N.C., who had 43, Herschel Walker of the Dallas Cowboys and Wrightsville, Ga. (42), Tony Goss of Randleman, N.C. (41) and Bobby Wright of Vian, Okla. (39).

Further, his 2,470 yards this season rank him third on the Southern Section's single-season list behind Ryan Knight of Rubidoux, who gained 2,620 yards, and Cureton's 2,504 yards.

"He's never run specifically for yardage or points, they've just seemed to materialize," said Tebb Kusserow, Santa Monica coach.

Before the season began about all anyone knew of Milburn was that he is a second cousin to Rod Milburn, the 1972 Olympic Games 100-meter hurdles champion.

Hawthorne Coach Goy Casillas, asked if he knew Milburn had that much potential, said, "No I didn't. Some kids here knew he was a good athlete. He played in the Jr. All-American program at Hawthorne."

There were other subtle hints of Milburn's potential. He earned all-Ocean League honors as a defensive back last season. Plus, there was a long touchdown run against Palisades.

"He played sparingly on offense last year," Kusserow said. "The reason is that we believe in our program that the team belongs to the seniors."

This year, Hawthorne, an Ocean League rival of Santa Monica's, was one of the few teams to slow down Milburn and the only one to beat Santa Monica (9-1).

"(The) first half against us wasn't all that good for him," Casillas said. "We got up, 38-14, and I started putting some substitutes into the game and he still got 200 yards. He did a hell of a job. He only had about 60 at halftime."

Milburn impressed Casillas to no end.

"The thing about him is that he's a good football player," he said. "You see him on the films and he moves well. He cuts back real well. He's not big, but he keeps his legs pumping. His center of gravity is low."

Jack Epstein, Palisades coach, is another admirer.

"He's really quick, elusive, tough as hell," Epstein said earlier this season. "He's one of the best backs in (the Southern Section). He doesn't go down, and we laid some hits on him."

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