YOU MIGHT HAVE picked up on the buzz coming out of Milford High this past Thursday. The Mudlarks captured their first state football championship in, this, their 56th season of varsity competition.
When backup quarterback Jarrod Hale found the end zone for the winning touchdown on the game’s final play, Milford had a 23-21 victory over the Pius XI Popes, sparking a celebration among the Milford fan base that likely will carry on until the start of next season.
In the aftermath, loyal readers of the Gil Thorp comic strip – it appears six days a week in The State and in 50-60 other newspapers across the country – were asking the inevitable question:
Why this season?
As you might have figured, coach Gil Thorp was not available for interviews. Thorp has been the Milford High athletics director as well as head football, boys basketball and baseball coach for all six decades of the program’s existence. Despite never aging a day while retaining his jet black hair and a flat-top that has been in style, out of style and back in over the years, Thorp has long maintained the moral high ground on all issues dealing with sports and society.
So, instead of Thorp, I went to the next most reliable source to find my answer. That would be Neal Rubin, the third author in the comic strip’s history. Rubin, a columnist for the Detroit News, has been writing the comic strip since 2004.
“It just seemed like a logical extension of the storyline,” Rubin said by telephone this past week when asked about the first title. “I’m going to sound like a coach, but I looked at the talent level, with a highly recruited quarterback and three two-way linemen who could play in college, and I thought this team has a chance to go places.
“As the season went on, I thought, this team could go all the way. It’s a bizarre thought process. I was sort of watching them as an outsider instead of as the puppeteer. But I really wasn’t sure when the season started that they were going to win the state championship.”
The storyline for the 2014 season centered on the arrival of hotshot junior True Standish, who would soon beat out the holdover Hale for the starting quarterback position. Standish weighed his many options in transferring, including some heavy-handed recruiting tactics by other schools, but ultimately went with the high-minded Thorp and his Milford program.
Standish’s character was loosely based, according to Rubin, on Drew Stanton, a quarterback currently with the Arizona Cardinals in the NFL. When Stanton’s family moved from Oregon to Michigan in 2000, it shopped for the best high school for the star football player.
In the comic strip, Thorp eventually had to go before the Milford school board to prove he did not engage in any recruiting practices to land Standish. Of course, no reader believed Thorp would stoop to such tactics.
After using a halfback pass for a late touchdown to push past Timken in the quarterfinals, Milford had the great fortune of playing a McKinley team in the semifinals that was weakened by the flu.
So, it was on to the championship game, where Standish was injured on a fourth-quarter drive and Hale was sent in to finish the game-winning drive. Of course, Standish was healthy enough to throw a block for Hale on the final play.
“You know, you’ve got to let the kid redeem himself, and it spoke more to teamwork and acceptance and maturing for Jarrod to score the touchdown than it would have been for True to score it,” said Rubin, obviously speaking for Thorp.
Mudlarks fans, no doubt, headed to “The Bucket,” Milford’s teenage hangout, in celebration. It was a longtime coming for a fan base that previously had celebrated eight boys basketball state titles. (For whatever reason, I clipped and saved the Milford championship strips from two seasons in the mid-1970s).
Online, bloggers at the site “This Week in Milford” (gilthorp.wordpress.com) are considering the sale of championship T-shirts.
Meanwhile, Thorp soon will turn his attention to boys basketball, and Rubin said he has seen that Milford’s non-region schedule features games against Columbia area high schools.
Then there likely is to be much attention on the college recruiting process for Standish, who earlier said he favored Miami of Ohio but would like to take his talents to a Power Five conference program. Rubin said there is a chance Standish will make a visit to a certain Southeastern Conference program in Columbia.
And, of course, next season we will see if Gil Thorp has the energy and coaching and leadership skills to help the Milford Mudlarks defend their lone state championship.