Three freshmen on this year’s Chadron State College football team are doing something they didn’t anticipate when they signed with the Eagles last spring. They are seeing varsity action.
Largely because of a lack of depth at their positions, safety Nick Milani, tailback Maurice Threatts and wide receiver John Toston have passed up their redshirt year and are getting playing time with the Eagles.
Each says he was told when he was being recruited by the Eagles that while it was possible he would play this fall, more than likely he would be a member of the service team and make his debut a year from now.
But after practice began and the coaches asked if they wanted play this year to help fill out their positions, each of them jumped at the chance.
And, after opportunity knocked, all three have dedicated themselves to doing their best. They want to make their chances count.
All three are a long way from home and were high school standouts.
Milani is a graduate of Poway High in the San Diego area, while Threatts and Toston are from the Clearwater, Fla., area.
Milani wasn’t on the varsity roster for the Eagles’ first two games, but got his chance to play when starting safety Craig Kaiser was injured. He’s taken part in 13 tackles and broken up a pass while playing in five conference games.
“The college game is a lot faster than I was used to and we put in more time now than we did in high school,” Milani said. “Maybe we don’t spend so much more time practicing and playing, but we do more time lifting weights, watching films and in meetings. I’ve learned a lot the past few weeks.”
Milani came to CSC with outstanding credentials. He played both running back and safety at Poway High, which has more than 3,000 students, but excelled on defense. He took part in 83 tackles, including 6.5 sacks, and had five pass interceptions. At the end of the season, he was named the outstanding defensive player in the San Diego area, which includes approximately 100 high schools, and earned second-team all-state.
His offensive highlights included returning a punt for a touchdown and throwing a halfback pass that went for a TD.
Milani hooked up with the Eagles after sending a tape and a letter to college. He and his father, Chuck, visited Chadron last spring and liked what they saw.
Threatts and Toston, who are suitemates in Kent Hall, met at a birthday party for a common friend about a year ago, but attended rival high schools located about 10 minutes apart. Threatts went to Countryside High and Toston to Dunedin. Since the county where they live has more than four million residents, both schools had approximately 2,000 students, although they said the dropout rate is high, making the figures hard to determine.
The speedy Threatts, who is 5-9, 170 pounds, ran for 962 yards and scored 14 touchdowns last fall. He has become one of the Eagles’ primary kickoff returners, averaging 31.9 yards on 10 opportunities. On Saturday against Western New Mexico, he had returns of 35 and 36 yards. It took a special play by a Mustang to stop him from streaking to the end zone on one of them.
He also carried the ball four times for 49 yards Saturday and is expected to get more and more action at the line of scrimmage now that Aaron Cooksley is sidelined by a broken leg.
Toston also plays on special teams and has caught two passes for 35 yards. Last year, he caught nine passes for 137 yards and three touchdowns although his team wasn’t pass-oriented. He also was a defensive standout for Dunedin High, taking part in 76 tackles, forcing and recovering two fumbles and intercepting three passes. Both Toston and Threatts played in the Pinellas County All-Star Game and competed in track and field.
Toston made connections with CSC through a scouting service. Threatts, who drew interest from the University of Jacksonville, had heard of former CSC running back Danny Woodhead and was helped in the recruiting process by his former Little League baseball coach, Doug Vorbeck.
All three of the rookies are anxious and also a bit apprehensive about something they know will happen soon in Chadron. That’s snow.
Threatts, who has lived in Florida all his life, has never seen it. Toston, who was born in Maryland, got a small dose of snow and cold last spring when he flew to Chadron for a visit. Milani, who lived in Tennessee as a youth, has experienced only light snow.
“I’ll be all right with it as long as it doesn’t last too long,” Milani said with a smile. The others said they’ll wait and see how they like it.
Meanwhile, the CSC coaches know they like what they see of the freshmen trio. Head coach Bill O’Boyle noted that there are many other excellent prospects among the approximately 40 freshmen on the roster. There will be plenty of opportunities for them next fall after the team graduates the nearly 20 seniors on this year’s travel roster.