The ideal scholarship for Glyn Milburn would have let him take classes at Stanford and play football for Oklahoma. But scholarships like that do not exist, and the star running back from Santa Monica High School finally chose Oklahoma.
Oklahoma, year after year among the nation’s top football teams with its powerful running, seemed to be the logical choice for a tailback who set a state single-season rushing record with 2,718 yards.
But Stanford, always among the nation’s best universities academically, seemed equally logical for a student with a 3.7 grade-point average whose hobbies include computers and art. Stanford might have been just the ticket for someone who wants to major in industrial engineering, work for a master’s degree in business administration and own his own business.
The trouble was that the record-setting tailback and fine student were both contained in the 5-foot, 9-inch, 165-pound person of Milburn. So it should not have been surprising that the heavily recruited senior was of two minds when it came to signing a letter of intent last February.
It was surprising that he first signed with Stanford, then settled on Oklahoma after neither of his parents signed the Stanford letter of intent.
Milburn, who will say farewell to high school football on July 23 in the 37th Shrine All-Star game at the Rose Bowl, said his final choice of colleges was based on “a lot of things. There was a lot of pressure.
“What appealed to me (about Stanford) were the environment, the academics and the distance--it’s not too close and not too far from home. But its football team is not one of the best.
“I’m a running back, and Oklahoma is a running school. It was a give-and-take thing, and you have to give up something. Both schools have good engineering programs.
“Oklahoma is not a Stanford academically, but Stanford is not an Oklahoma for football.”
Another thing that tipped the balance for Oklahoma was that he has spent several summers learning the wishbone formation at the Sooners’ annual camp for ages 11-17 on the Norman campus.
“I thought it was a lot of fun and met a lot of people down there,” he said. “I got accustomed to going. It was kind of like a ritual.”
Another factor was that he has long dreamed of playing in the National Football League, and the Sooners have sent many running back to the pros.
Playing running back seemed a dream to Milburn in his junior year at Santa Monica High. In 1986, he carried the ball infrequently, playing most as a defensive back. He was good enough on defense to win All-Ocean League honors.
But Santa Monica Coach Tebb Kusserow has long had a seniors-first philosophy, and it has worked well for the Vikings, who have won a slew of league championships and the Southern Section Coastal Conference title in 1981.
Kusserow was quoted as saying that Milburn played little on offense because “we believe in our program that the team belongs to the seniors.” So, although Milburn ran for a 64-yard touchdown on his first carry as a junior, he was a fill-in at tailback for Mark Jackson, a two-year starter and a Times All-Westside selection in 1986.
If Milburn showed promise on his first carry as a junior, he delivered performance-plus as a senior running back. On the first play of his first game against St. Paul, he stuck it in the Swordsmen with a 90-yard touchdown run, giving Santa Monica fans a preview of things to come.
What came was a heap of school, Southern Section and state rushing records, including 2,716 yards, 39 touchdowns, 234 points, 9 consecutive games in which he ran for more than 200 yards and 382 yards rushing in one game.
Kusserow, sounding surprised, told a reporter that Milburn had “never run specifically for yardage or points; they’ve just seemed to materialize.”
His 90-yarder against St. Paul seemed a little dreamlike to Milburn. “It was like you were in space,” he said after that game. “It was like no other feeling--like an animation.”
Opposing coaches wished they had been dreaming after their teams had tried to contain Milburn.
Palisades High Coach Jack Epstein called him “quick, elusive, tough as hell. He’s one of the best backs in the (Southern Section). He doesn’t go down, and we laid some hits on him.”
Hawthorne Coach Goy Casillas, whose team slowed Milburn some, said: "(The) first half against us wasn’t all that good for him. We got up, 38-14, and I started putting some substitutes into the game--and he still got 200 yards.”
Was Milburn disappointed that he didn’t get to show his offensive stuff as a junior? “Not really. I was on defense, and Mark (Jackson) was doing a good job at running back.
“Once I got my chance, I took advantage of it.” That’s like saying that Moses parted the Red Sea just a little.
Was he surprised that he did so well last year? “I don’t know. I guess everyone was. I’m not really sure. I was kind of surprised.
“I thought that it would be tougher to get through the holes, but after the first couple of games I just told myself to go on doing what you’re doing.”
In his first year at Oklahoma, he won’t be able to do what he did last year. He said the coaching staff wants him to redshirt as a freshman “because of my age (17) and maturity.”
He said sitting out his first year should be a good timetable for him to follow because Sooner running backs Anthony Stafford and Leon Perry will have departed when he is ready to play.
When he is ready to play, will he bring with him any lessons learned from Kusserow? Yes.
“Coach Kusserow taught me to run hard and be tough. I know how to protect myself after running the ball all those times. I’ll run around them before I’ll run through them.
I learned something (about) helping the team. As long as we won, that’s what it’s about. They can give me the ball one time or 100 times; it doesn’t matter to me.”
Though he hopes to play in the NFL, he said being a pro takes a back seat to being a college graduate. “Most of all I want to get a good education. That’s something you can guarantee.
“Nothing comes easy; you have to work for what you get. But if you put God first in your life, everything will work out for the best.”