Updated: May 23
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Many say they know what it takes to create a warrior...what it takes to become a champion, what it means to be the best...
...few understand what is required to build a title-contender entirely from scratch...
....far less have ever traveled the path of doubt and most resistance without giving up...
....but here's a story about a Louisiana high school and their starting safety who've battled the odds and established something great at Kenner High School.
Kenner High School's football program began when savvy Coach P.J Sprunk took the reigns:
The school's humble beginnings weren't humble at all...they were barely existant: only 13 players arrived for the first practice....one of those players was Zander Milton, #32 starting strong safety.
Although the turnout was so low Coach Sprunk worried about being able to even play a football season, due to the influence of leaders like Zander Milton, outside LB Robert James Jr., sophomore QB Kristian Kraft and O-lineman Jackson Turner, 13 became 25, then more and more kids began showing up to Kenner High practices. By mid-Summer, there were enough kids to make a full squad...only just.
The program's first season was a trial of brutal defeats, going an understandable 2-8 against the 3-A competition in Louisiana (they weren't expected to win a game), riding out the frustrating learning curve many athletes and coaches must endure as they grow together as a collective.
Then, in their second season something incredible happened:
While experts across Louisiana's football-obsessed local media predicted a 0-win season for Kenner High, Coach P.J Sprunk pushed his men through a battle-born summer which toughened these boys up...to the level they turned into young men.
Taking no prisoners and shocking the world with a remarkable 6-4 record, Kenner completely turned the tables on the local high school dynamic, going from zero to hero, a losing program completing its metamorphosis into a winning contender who only narrowly missed the playoffs due to bizarre seeding rules.
Heading into 2020, battling a pandemic's uncertainty, higher than usual expectations and a target on their backs from other schools, Coach P.J Sprunk and his players aren't aiming for 5 or 6 wins...they're aiming for a state championship at the Superdome, the only aim to play for.
Damn....we're ready to suit up and go out there and run through walls for (diehard LSU Tigers fan) Coach P.J Sprunk after writing this.
How did the stunning turnaround happen?
We interviewed soon-to-be junior strong safety Zander Milton about Kenner High's potential coming into 2020, their quest for vengeance and Superdome glory, Zander's daily aim for improvement and his upcoming high octane, high profile 5 Star junior season.
LONN: When you watch the Draft does it empower you to get better? Does it get frustrating? Or is it exciting like that's gonna be me?
ZANDER: Both make me want to get better and that’s gonna be me one day. It really showed that it doesn’t matter what level you play at... if you’re good they WILL find you as long as you work hard and preform when the time comes. There’s probably a-lot of D-II and below players that can out play some D-I players and the draft showed it.
LONN: Zander, when we last talked you said you wanted to play in the NFL obviously because you love the game, but it goes deeper than that: you want to support your mother, since it's Mother's Day weekend coming up, tell us what she's done to support your football career.
ZANDER: She’s done a lot: whenever i need something she tries her hardest to get it to me as soon as possible. She’s always there when i need support bringing me to camps and doesn’t believe in quitting, only in getting better.
LONN: Kenner has a big year coming up, from going 2-8 to 6-4....who are the teams on the schedule that make you most determined to equalize the balance?
ZANDER: The teams that make me most determined are De La Salle, Bay High and Salmen, because at the end of the day. nobody’s gonna care if you’re beating up on losers 50-0. When you beat good teams like them it really shows dominance which is why that’s gonna be our goal this season. So, we know we have to move forward 110% with no mistakes.
LONN: Do you dig playing for Coach P.J Sprunk? What is he like? Is he laid back or is he more old school in your face?
ZANDER: I love playing for Coach Sprunk! He gets in your face and lets you know what you did wrong and how you gotta fix it. He understands there’s no time for “sorry”and “my bad” either you get it right on and off the field or you just won’t play. We had the record we did this year cause he was hard on us and kept pushing us to get better.
LONN: As a safety, who are some of your idols?
ZANDER: My idol is definitely Eric Weddle. I love watching him play he plays fast and hard. Always gets the job done, very smart and has helped his team plenty of times to victory.
LONN: You said you love Oregon AND LSU, very interesting for a local kid, but at the same time, if it was between Oregon or LSU who would you commit to right now?
ZANDER: If i had to choose right now i would go to LSU. It would ultimately come down to an official visit but if it was right at this moment then LSU because they are extremely hot right now. They have the national championship, they are very well known for their defense, 14 players taken in the draft, etc. You can go on and on with them right now.
LONN: Zander, what's your biggest weakness on the football field?
ZANDER: My biggest weakness is probably my size in some cases. There’s been times where i’ve went against someone with no talent whatsoever but because they were four times my size they could hold me and just push me back. This offseason i’ve worked to overcome that so when i step on to the field bigger and they can’t do that, then I’m unstoppable for teams.
LONN: What's your biggest strength on the field?
ZANDER: My biggest strength is between blitzing and open field tackling. If we’re in open field the jukes won’t work on me i’m going to sit and attack how coach has taught me. And for blitzing i became a problem for some teams especially when i got moved to the middle at times. They would double team me alot because as soon as the ball moved off the ground i’m already 3 steps into the backfield looking for someone to hit.
LONN: Are you into watching film? Dissecting the plays?
ZANDER: I’ve definitely been watching alot of film which is why i’ve become dominant against some teams. I’ll know what the play is and i’ll know exactly where the ball will be. Lets say the guard pulls left like there’s gonna be a run left, if they line up trips to a side I'mma stay alert for the screen and be on the lookout for it.
LONN: I would suggest watching some tape on Sean Taylor. As a former safety myself, in my opinion hes the best to ever do it...because he could do it ALL, which is the perfect segue to this question: For you, which attribute is most important for a safety to have?
ZANDER: As a safety you gotta be strong, very physical, and smart. If you’re playing free, you need speed but if you’re playing strong, you don’t necessarily need speed, but your reactions have to be very quick. Being a Strong Safety you’re enforcing the run so you’re gonna take hits so you have to be strong. You also have to be very physical going against tight ends. O-linemen, and tackling running backs. Reading the play before it starts will make you very scary on the field... which is why I see how important it is to be smart and dissect film.
LONN: Is there a time on the football field where you've felt like there wasn't a damn thing the opponents could do to stop you? What game? And how did it make you feel?
ZANDER: There’s been quite a few games but one that sticks out the most was pope john paul. I felt dominant more than ever knowing i wasn’t gonna be blocked it was gonna come down to if i could make the play or not and i could. The o line couldn’t stop me on a blitz so if it was a run it got stuffed or if it was a pass the quaterback had 2 seconds to make a move. And that’s what the game came down to on the goal line were they gonna be able to block me and the d line and they couldn’t so we won.
LONN: What event in your life has defined you the most?
ZANDER: Week 2 when I broke my hand because I could’ve just sat out and waited 4 or 5 weeks to play again. But instead, I played with a club, fought through adversity and preformed at a high level. That moment really showed that I never quit and I’ll always fight no matter the circumstances.
LONN: When was the moment you guys knew 2-8 wasn't gonna be happening in 2019?
When was the turnaround during that summer?
ZANDER: We knew it wasn’t gonna be the same after reading the reports of people saying we 'wouldn’t win a game in years' so we just used that as our drive and motivation.
LONN: So it was just this attitude change or was it Sprunk telling you guys the trash talk they were saying?
ZANDER: The turnaround started happening after our team camp. We gained more chemistry and as new coaches like Coach Matt, Coach Fortuna, and Coach Duhe came along, we began putting all the pieces together. It was both the attitude and Coach Sprunk pushing us that ultimately led to our turnaround. We had a mission to prove everyone wrong and we did that.
Zander is poised for a big time junior year, and we're lucky we've beaten the other scouts to the punch with this kid...Milton is a true jewel in Louisiana High School football.
His timing on the blitz, his contain on the edge and his mammoth tackling ability recall a linebacker (which Zander can play), while his ability to read throws over the middle and stuff jet sweeps, end arounds or RPO fakery belies his 3 stars and unsung brilliance.
There's no ceilings for Zander...or Kenner High for that matter.
We'll be seeing Milton suit up in purple and gold soon enough and I guarantee you right here, right now, we'll be watching Kenner Discovery raising the 3-A title at the Superdome this season thanks to Coach Sprunk's mentality and Milton's defensive playmaking.
It's rare to see a school so low on the funding totem pole announcing themselves this early in their trajectory, not to mention becoming a team willing to aim for the top, intense with the pursuit of ultimate greatness.
These boys aren't messing around in Kenner...they want it all and who's gonna dare take it from 'em?
....ya'll best get outta the way of this freight train.
ZANDER MILTON SOPHOMORE STATS (2019):
49 Total Tackles
5 Passes Defended / Deflected
4 Forced Fumbles
3 Fumble Recoveries
49 total tackles, 14 for a loss, five pass deflections, four sacks, four forced fumbles, and three By