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His Best Move : Glyn Milburn Is Happy to Blend In After Transfer From Oklahoma to Stanford

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Glyn Milburn was given his unusual first name by his mother, who wanted her youngest son to stand apart from the crowd.

She needn’t have bothered.

Milburn has carved a niche for himself in college football.

A junior at Stanford by way of Santa Monica High and Oklahoma, where he spent a year before transferring, Milburn ranks among the most dangerous and explosive all-purpose runners in the country.

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He was described by Stanford Coach Dennis Green as “a jack of all trades (with) characteristics to master them all.”

And Washington State Coach Mike Price, noting Milburn’s ability to run, catch and return kicks, said Milburn “might be the most feared player in the (Pacific 10) conference.”

Last season, Milburn led the country in all-purpose yards, averaging 202 a game, or about 45 more than Notre Dame’s Raghib Ismail.

A first-team all-conference pick last season, he will line up Saturday in Stanford’s opener against Washington as a consensus preseason All-American. He has been listed among the leadingcandidates for the Heisman Trophy.

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And yet, despite the best intentions of his mother and Stanford’s sports publicity staff, Milburn probably would prefer anonymity.

That is part of the reason he favored Stanford over Oklahoma.

“I like blending into the student body--not sticking out as a football player,” said Milburn, a public policy major who is on track to graduate next spring. “People here aren’t concerned with what you do. They don’t try to stereotype you. They’re more interested in you as a person.”

At Oklahoma, “we were cut off physically (from the student body at large) in the athletic dorms,” Milburn said. “And Oklahoma is more of a football haven. You’re sort of put on a pedestal, kind of made to (believe) you’re above certain things. You’re made to believe you’re something that you’re really not. I don’t think it’s that way here.”

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At Stanford, Milburn seldom is recognized, which may have more to do with his size--at 5 feet 9 and 175 pounds, he is among the Cardinal’s smallest players--than with indifference on the part of his classmates.

The soft-spoken Milburn, however, doesn’t see it that way.

“Here, everyone’s done something (special),” he said. “Just because I’m getting attention in football doesn’t mean the next guy isn’t in Electronics Weekly, or something like that.

“I was noticed at Oklahoma and I didn’t even play that much. I can’t imagine being a Heisman candidate out there.”

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In truth, Milburn never really wanted to go to Oklahoma.

After rushing for a state-record 2,718 yards and scoring 39 touchdowns as a senior at Santa Monica, where he also achieved a 3.8 grade-point average, Milburn was courted by almost every school in the country.

A cousin of Rod Milburn, a hurdler who won a gold medal in the 1972 Olympics, Milburn never seriously considered USC or UCLA. He said he simply wanted to leave Los Angeles, “to get away and see things on my own,” but his mother said he just didn’t like either school.

Milburn made official visits to four schools, including Notre Dame, Washington and Oklahoma, before signing a letter of intent with Stanford. But because Milburn was only 16 at the time, a parent’s signature was also required to validate the document.

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Milburn never got it.

His stepfather, Robert Hammock, was partial to Oklahoma.

“We had a difference of opinion,” Milburn said.

Jessie Hammock said her son was “a kid who tried to please” and was “not very expressive.” She wasn’t fully aware of how badly he wanted to attend Stanford until he signed with Oklahoma.

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“Soon afterward, I knew that a mistake had been made,” she said. “So, we spent a year working behind the scenes, trying to get this mistake remedied.”

After Milburn had enrolled at Oklahoma, his mother met with Barry Switzer, then the Sooner coach. She explained that her family, caught up in the recruiting process, had made an error.

“He promised me that at the end of the year, if Glyn was not happy, he would let him go,” she said. “And he did.”

A melancholy sort, to use his mother’s description, Milburn harbored no resentment toward his stepfather. Nor does he now.

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In fact, he said that he was not entirely unhappy at Oklahoma, where he rushed for 124 yards in eight carries during his freshman season, won an award as the Sooners’ freshman scholar-athlete of the year and earned a place in the starting lineup during the following spring.

He just thought he would be much happier at Stanford.

“And now that I’m here, I’m at peace,” he said.

Milburn’s performance last season seemed to reflect that.

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His 2,222 all-purpose yards, second highest total in Pac-10 history, included 729 by rushing, 632 in receptions, 594 in kickoff returns and 267 in punt returns.

He said he didn’t feel comfortable, after sitting out a year as a transfer, until the second half of the season but still led the conference with 64 receptions, ranked second with a kickoff-return average of 24.8 yards and third with a punt-return average of 11.1 yards. In a memorable 27-25 victory over California, he amassed a conference-record 379 all-purpose yards.

But because he considers himself a running back, first and foremost, Milburn described his season as average.

“I need to rush the ball better,” he said.

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His mother said that Glyn, the youngest of three brothers, has always been “driven,” almost from the day he was born.

Two months premature, he weighed three pounds at birth. His mother, an elementary school teacher, was told to prepare for his imminent death. But he survived, spending his first month in an incubator.

His mother liked the name Glen, but opted for the unique spelling of Glyn “because I wanted him to be different.”

Milburn started school a year earlier than scheduled because his mother, unable to find a baby sitter, dropped him off at her friend’s kindergarten class. The next year, when it was time to enter kindergarten, he was put into first grade instead. Always younger than his classmates, he still excelled.

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Green said that Milburn will carry the ball more this season than he did last year, when he averaged 4.8 yards in 152 carries. If possible, Milburn may be more of a featured performer in the Cardinal’s offense, even if the resulting spotlight makes him a bit uncomfortable.

He is a reluctant star.

“I’m trying to fit in, not be someone special,” he said.

That’s one of his few failures.

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