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HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PREVIEW

Knox Runs To The Right

Birmingham star has plenty of talent, but his character really sets him apart

August 29, 2007|Eric Sondheimer | Times Staff Writer

When Milton Knox of Lake Balboa Birmingham was a youth football standout in the eighth grade, seemingly able to score touchdowns any time he wished, there was a frightening moment that provided a glimpse of his character.

His team's quarterback, Christopher Potter, was having trouble breathing on the field. As medical personnel worked on Potter, Knox refused to leave the sidelines, staying by his teammate's side.

"That's my God brother," Knox said. "I love him. Football is just a chapter in your life. There's a bigger picture. I didn't want to go back into the game until they said he was cool."

Potter's father, Dana, who coached the team, assured Knox that everything would be OK.

"I think they kind of lied to me," Knox said. "It was a critical situation, fourth down. I went in, we scored and the game was over."

The next day, Knox was the first to arrive at the hospital to greet an improving Potter, their loyalty and friendship intact.

"I'm always concerned about people," Knox said.

Many of Knox's football accomplishments have been well-documented, from earning City Section player-of-the-year honors last season by rushing for 2,374 yards and scoring 29 touchdowns, to accepting a scholarship offer this summer from UCLA.

But the way Knox displays character on and off the field helps separate him from a talented group of Southland running backs.

Last May, his chemistry teacher wrote a letter in which he thanked Knox for his integrity in being one of only two students who didn't cheat on a test.

"Clearly, the opportunity was there, but he chose not to compromise his ethics," the teacher said.

As Knox's coach, Ed Croson, explains it, "He's on time every day. . . . In class, he's quiet and respectful. On the field, all his emotions come out.

"He stepped in as a ninth-grader and scored two touchdowns at the Coliseum. He made an impact on the seniors. The seniors were taking cues from a ninth-grader. That's extremely rare."

Some referees in the City Section even let Knox address them by their first names because of their respect for him.

Loyalty, integrity, hard work -- they have all been ingrained in Knox by his father, Milton Sr., who grew up in Mississippi with 16 brothers and sisters.

"They had to learn to be on their own and be disciplined," Knox said. "That's what my dad teaches me. He raised us to be responsible."

Knox has deceptive speed, but at only 5 feet 8 and 200 pounds, he still hears from skeptics who question his college potential. Rivals.com ranks him the 16th-best running back in the country, with 6-1, 200-pound Darrell Scott of Ventura St. Bonaventure ranked No. 1.

"It's really no big deal. . . ," he said. "I'm bigger than some running backs in Division I right now. I'm just not tall. It's something I can't change. I'm going to stay this way forever. If they want to doubt me, let them. I'm going to keep doing what has made me successful."

Knox loves to entertain, whether it's his teammates or the opponents. He can't play football without carrying on a running dialogue.

"I like to have fun," he said. "I'm always talking to the referees, to the quarterback, to the other players."

Then there's Knox the showman -- whenever he scores a touchdown and sees a nearby camera, he'll point toward it.

"That's my trademark," he said. "Everybody is trying to steal it."

Birmingham has won City titles two of the last three seasons with Knox. The question is whether the Patriots have enough hunger to win again.

"I keep telling people we can get beat any day," Knox said. "For some reason, a saying keeps coming into my mind, what John Wooden said . . . to win a championship, it takes talent. To repeat, it takes character."

Knox is ready to show his teammates the way. Last season, he succeeded despite nagging ankle problems.

"There were a number of times last year I was hurt," he said. "I had two ankle sprains. I bit my tongue and kept going."

That's Milton Knox -- he gives his all every game.

--

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

--

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Head of their class

Rating the top running backs in the Southern Section and City Section. For the complete list, go to latimes.com/preps.

SOUTHERN SECTION

1. Darrell Scott (St. Bonaventure), 6-1, 200, Sr.

New school, new expectations

2. Ryan Bass (Corona Centennial), 5-10, 205, Sr.

Rushed for 2,352 yards, 36 TDs last year

3. Delano Howell (Hart), 6-0, 190, Sr.

Versatile, smart and fearless

--

CITY SECTION

1. Milton Knox (Birmingham), 5-8, 200, Sr.

He's a warrior who runs hard every play

2. Curtis McNeal (Venice), 5-9, 180, Sr.

Headed to USC, scored 42 TDs last season

3. Jack Sula (Carson), 6-0, 203, Sr.

Rushed for 1,834 yards, 25 TDs in 2006

--

-- Eric Sondheimer

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