Bradwell Institute’s Willie Keith “K.J.” Milner Jr. started playing football as a small boy on Fort Stewart, said his father and onetime youth coach, Willie Keith Milner Sr.
“He was always one of the youngest guys, playing against older guys,” the elder Milner said, noting he didn’t give his son any breaks. “As his dad, I coached him hard.”
The younger Milner reaped one of the rewards of that hard work Thursday when he signed to play football and attend school at Western Carolina.
The 6-4, 240 pound defensive lineman was a key reason the Tigers went 6-4 in coach Ross Couch’s first season. At Thursday’s signing ceremony at the BI cafeteria, Couch praised Milner for his work in the classroom and on the field.
“We’re all glad to say you played for the Bradwell Tigers and we’re looking forward to big things,” Couch said.
Former BI assistant coach Brenton Nobles, who coached under both Adam Carter and Greg Hill, and coached Milner “since he was 9 years old,” also spoke at the ceremony, telling students who attended that K.J. Milner was a coach’s dream.
“I’m proud that K.J. has reaped the benefits he worked so hard for,” Nobles said. “K.J. is a kid who, no matter what you asked him to do, said ‘yes coach, no coach, ok coach,’ nothing negative. Everybody needs to have the mindset that K.J. has. Come to practice, do your job, work hard, get better and help the team.”
Milner thanked family, supporters and coaches and called the event “a new chapter” after a senior season that saw him earn first-team All-Region 2-AAAAAA honors and the opportunity to play in an all-star game.
The All Region performer had 66 total tackles and 32 solo stops as a senior and returned an interception for a touchdown.
He was also as a four-year letterman in basketball and was a member of the Tigers’ track team. And Milner was one of the team’s top students and a member of the National Honor Society.
Among those who praised Milner were Liberty County Probate Judge Nancy Aspinwall and Hinesville City Councilman Keith Jenkins.
But the most emotional speech came from the elder Milner as his son and wife Francesca looked on, and his younger brothers Andre, Trey and Xavier sat in the audience.
“When this young man was born it was one of the proudest days of my life,” Milner said, adding. “I’ve seen K.J. do some amazing things. I’ve seen him deal with injuries, and pain. When he was a junior in high school and couldn’t hardly run, they tried to make K.J. quit, but he wouldn’t quit. The determination and drive that K.J. showed is unbelievable.”
The Catamounts play in the Football Championship Series and are a member of the Southern Conference. Western Carolina is in Cullowhee