Before Tarique Milton became a cog in one of the area’s most explosive offenses last fall, the wide receiver was a slow-starter in an underwhelming early season for Manatee. The Hurricanes stumbled to a 1-2 start, and Milton was battling a high-ankle sprain and seldom on the field.
The setback was disheartening to head coach John Booth, who had watched Milton develop from a rotational receiver as a sophomore into a junior with massive potential. He expected Milton to be a star in the return game and a fixture in the Canes’ passing attack.
“It was really in that offseason and the summer where we really started to see him making some plays that we’d see him as a sophomore make, so we were really excited going into the fall,” Booth said. “You could no doubt see his ability was there. You just wanted to see him let him loose out on the field.”
The recruiting trail has mirrored Milton’s onfield path. After making it through his junior season without little attention from recruiting services and college coaches, Milton has become the most coveted rising senior in Manatee County, pulling in multiple scholarship offers, including from Iowa State, Kentucky, Louisville, Syracuse and Pittsburgh.
None, however, has stood out more than the one he collected from Michigan State in early May. He made East Lansing, Mich., the destination for his first college visit when he attended a one-day camp on June 18 at Michigan State University.
Milton impressed coaches and wound up being the last player on the field, running drills by himself for the staff to get a better look at one of last year’s first-team All-Area receivers.
Milton relished the attention and was most impressed by the way the coaches interacted with everyone. He already has a strong relationship with assistant head coach Marlon Barnett, who recruits the Tampa Bay area, and has since started texting with wide receivers coach Terrence Samuel.
“I like the way they talk to us individually,” Milton said. “They treat us as family.”
Milton’s rise from unknown to hotly pursued was rapid, but not necessarily unexpected. He was timed at 4.39 seconds in the 40-yard dash and has a 5-foot-10 frame. On the field, after he failed to top 74 yards in any of his first six games, Milton ripped off three 100-yard games in his last five, including a 14-catch, 207-yard performance to end the season against Orlando Dr. Phillips
The wideout finished with 50 catches for 855 yards and eight touchdowns to go along with two punt-return touchdowns. Coaches began texting him during the winter and spring to tell him they liked his film. By February, he pulled in a Southern Miss offer. Bowling Green, Marshall, Central Florida, Western Kentucky and Samford soon followed. On May 4, the Spartans pulled the trigger, and the floodgates opened.
“The season that I had last year coming through, I guess my name started getting out there a little bit, so I guess coaches finally realizing, Let’s check this guy out,” Milton said. “I guess they’re enjoying what they see.”
During the ensuing 48 hours, Milton added offers from Kentucky, Iowa State, Syracuse and Rutgers. Now, he says, he’s up to 19 offers.
Although MSU is still the school that stands out, Milton plans to travel to Ames, Iowa, this weekend for a one-day camp at Iowa State University, and more attention should come during the fall. Milton will be the Hurricanes’ No. 1 receiver since Kavious Price and Reggie Carter graduated, and Booth expects him to contribute as a kick returner even more.
“I wasn’t really surprised,” Booth said. “There’s guys out there who have the speed, but they aren’t able to make plays on the field. Or guys that can make plays on the field, but maybe don’t have the measurables that a Division I college program would want, so he kind of fits the mold for both.”