Milton’s Spaulding steps up when it's his turn to shine
Think of Phil Bengtson, who replaced Vince Lombardi at Green Bay in 1968. Or Dan Devine, who had the unenviable task of replacing Ara Parseghian at Notre Dame in 1975.
Can the successor ever live up to the intense pressure and lofty credentials?
In the case of Milton High senior Justin Spaulding, the answer is yes.
Spaulding followed current UW-Whitewater player Derek Underwood at tailback in 2006. All Underwood did in his senior season for the Red Hawks was rush for 41 touchdowns and nearly 1,600 yards in leading Milton to an 11-1 record and the third round of the WIAA Division 2 playoffs.
In two years as the featured back in Milton’s high-powered offense, Spaulding has acquitted himself well. He has rushed for 2,274 yards in two seasons heading into his team’s Division 2 playoff opener at home Tuesday night against Kettle Moraine.
Spaulding, a 5-foot-11, 200-pound speedster, has 1,056 yards this season and 18 touchdowns, including three as a receiver, despite missing a game and a half with a hip-pointer. He said the injury is about 95 percent healed.
Milton coach Jeff Bachinski said he wasn’t worried about whether Spaulding could duplicate Underwood’s staggering numbers. All the coach wanted was production from Spaulding, and he has gotten it.
“Justin’s an integral part of our offense,” Bachinski said of Spaulding, whose 7.9-yard average per carry has helped his 7-2 team average 244 yards rushing and 36.7 points a game. “He’s our go-to guy, and any success we have running the football starts with him.
“It would’ve been unrealistic to expect Justin to go out and score 40-some touchdowns, like Derek did. And in our offense, he doesn’t have to.”
Spaulding and Underwood talk over the phone a couple times a week and remain good friends. Underwood’s constant words of wisdom and attention to detail have made an impact on Spaulding.
“Derek’s given me pointers on different things to try, and then it’s a matter of going out on the field to see if they work, which they usually do,” Spaulding said. “It’s great that he’s right down the road at UW-Whitewater.”
Nothing has paid more dividends for Spaulding than a grueling offseason conditioning and speed-training regimen the last two summers. The training was so intense at times that Spaulding, along with workout partners Seth Underwood and Ethan Bachinski, would throw up. He was pushing himself to the limit four times a week—two to three times a day.
Spaulding first realized the positive impact of the speed-training program after he qualified for the state track and field meet in the 100-meter dash last spring.
“Justin took it upon himself to try to get to the next level,” Jeff Bachinski said. “That was evident in track last year, and it has carried over to football.
“He improved his attributes by getting bigger, stronger and faster. He didn’t take any shortcuts to get where he’s at.”
Milton lost its season opener to Illinois power Woodstock Marian Central and a Southern Lakes Conference game to Fort Atkinson—a game in which Spaulding did not play on offense—but has been running on all cylinders the last month. The Red Hawks won their fourth straight conference title—a co-championship with Elkhorn—and figure to be a tough out in the playoffs.
Spaulding said the key to success in the playoffs would be keeping the same mentality that has worked in the past.
“It’s one game at a time,” Spaulding said. “We’ve been getting better, but now everybody has to step it up even more. That means both the offense and the defense.
“Our team speed gives a lot of teams trouble because they don’t realize how fast we are,’’ he said. “Our intensity has been really good since we lost to Fort.
“We didn’t practice very well that week, and it showed in the game. We’ve been focused ever since.”
Are the Red Hawks focused enough to make a run at a Division 2 title? That would cap off a legendary career for Justin Spaulding.