For the first time in nearly a decade, Brandon Milholland is back roaming the sideline at Central High School — this time as the head man.
After nine years at Cedaredge, where he went 53-39 and won the Class 1A state title in 2012, Milholland takes over the program he played for in his prep days and spent seven years coaching as an assistant.
From Milholland’s perspective, there was no better time to make his return.
“Head coaching positions don’t come around every year, or even every other year, for that matter,” Milholland said. “I just needed that. I needed a new challenge in life. The kids in the program at Cedaredge, I don’t know if I felt like I was moving it forward anymore, and sometimes, change is good for everybody. My daughter’s fine, she’s a junior in high school, she can take care of herself. My wife’s solid. This was kind of an opportunity we decided we couldn’t pass up.
“We’re really excited for the fresh newness of a new opportunity and job.”
Milholland has come a long way from nine years ago, when he stepped into Cedaredge’s football facility and it hit him that he was going to be in charge of a football program.
What may have been just as jarring was when he returned to Central and saw the difference in the resources at his disposal.
“When I came back here, what really hit me initially was that I have 12 assistant coaches, three times as many as I’ve ever had,” Milholland said. “Instead of looking at 35 players, I’m looking at 85 players on that first day. But as far as high school kids go, they all act real similarly. It doesn’t really matter where you go, the good and the bad. I don’t know if there was any big nostalgia moment when I got back, but I am excited.”
Milholland steps into a good situation left by predecessor Shawn Marsh, who left to be the coach at Eaglecrest. The Warriors went 7-4 last season and qualified for the 4A playoffs.
The only problem? Many of the key players on last year’s team aren’t around anymore, including quarterback Max Marsh, who tossed 20 touchdown passes and ran for four more scores but left to go to Eaglecrest with his father.
As a result of the turnover, most of the starting lineup hasn’t been fully settled.
“It’s all pretty much up in the air,” Milholland said. “We have our top two at every position and they’re going to compete (to be the starter).”
The battle to replace Marsh under center is between junior Michael Gohn and senior Jaggar Wade, who threw two passes in backup duty last season.
Central also must replace 1,000-yard rusher Anthony Zubiate. The starting job will either go to Patrick Courtney or Triston Rascon, both seniors with limited touches.
Fortunately, the Warriors return arguably their most dynamic offensive player: tight end Kole Taylor, who committed to LSU in July.
Milholland has nothing but praise for the 6-foot-7, 235-pound playmaker.
“He’s worked his tail off in the time I’ve been here, and that’s just since this spring,” Milholland said. “He’s a hard worker in the weight room and he takes pride in doing well. He’s gotten better from April, when I first kind of saw him and met him, to now. He’s gotten better as an athlete, he’s got good hands, he’s got good speed, he works hard on his feet and his route running, and he’s a strong guy, too. I don’t know if people know that about him.
“With him out there, it relieves some pressure on our quarterback, for sure.”
Another factor that will relieve pressure on the Warriors is scheme familiarity. Despite new leadership, Central plans to stick to the spread offense it utilized under Shawn Marsh.
Defensively, Central must replace its entire secondary, so Milholland hopes the defensive line, anchored by ends Taylor and Claudio Austin, will be effective enough, at least early in the season, to offset the inexperience.
Despite the lack of returning starters and the uncertainty of a regime change, the Warriors don’t expect to take any steps back in 2019.
“Everybody’s got the same expectation right now: everybody wants to be the state champion,” Milholland said. “If that’s not why you’re out there, then why are you out there? It’s everybody’s goal right now. I would hope to see these guys come together as a team, play for one another, be disciplined, be excited and enjoy the game and learn to love the game.”
“Once you begin to love the game, it’s no longer work. It’s something you love doing and you don’t even think about it as work. It’s something I hope to pass on to these guys.”