BELTON — Athletics weren’t on Grant Milligan’s radar when he moved to Belton prior to his seventh-grade year.
Skateboarding, bikes and his friends had been what he was most interested in while growing up in Plano. His brush with other sports — the kinds without wheels — during that time paints the perfect picture of where organized outdoor team activities once ranked.
“Whenever my friends would throw me a football or ask me to play baseball on their team I was like, ‘Nah, that isn’t me.’ The most athletic thing I did probably was play soccer. And I was a goalie on like a fourth-grade team, so I could sit down the entire game,” Milligan, a senior linebacker for Belton, said laughing, perhaps because of how drastically different his feelings now are about sports and being a part of a team.
Milligan moved to Bell County with his family to be closer to relatives on him mom’s side. To say he was over the moon about relocating might be a stretch. But he understood why the change was made, so he said he was OK with it.
“I wasn’t all that happy about it because of the group of friends I had up there. We were all really tight,” he said. “But my dad has to travel internationally a lot and (my mom) wanted the family support, which is completely fine.”
And, soon enough, he felt right at home anyway.
When he settled into North Belton Middle School, he recognized a way to start making friends. He had to try something he’d never really considered attempting before, at least in its fullest extent.
“I was talking to my mom and was like, ‘Well, everyone seems to be playing football and that’s the talk.’ She’s like, ‘If you want to play, you can play,’” Milligan recalled.
Milligan played that year, albeit sparingly during games, and figured that was enough considering he had accomplished his main goal, which was to find his group with which to hang out. With a new crew, Milligan planned to go about his final year in middle school and the next four in high school content with a football-free schedule.
Turns out, all those buddies were excited for their eighth-grade season. Milligan decided he might as well give it another go.
“That was the year it all clicked for me,” he said. “At the end of the day, I want nothing more than to be part of this team — the Belton Tiger team.”
It’s fair to say that skateboarding is currently a way-afterthought. Now, Milligan can diagram on demand his team’s 3-4 defensive approach, clearly describe what his responsibilities are in the scheme, where he needs to be on a run play and when he needs to lend a hand in pass coverage.
“He’s one of those kids, he’s always going to give great effort, he’s always going to get here on time, he’s always going to run sprints as hard as he can run, he’s always going to the rep in the weight room as hard as he can do it. But, he’s really grown in the system and knowing his fits. I’ve been very pleased with his progression from spring football to now,” Belton head coach Sam Skidmore said. “His enthusiasm in practice is something. Maybe some guys aren’t having the best day, but he’s always having a good day.”
What originally kept Milligan around was the camaraderie. He admired and was motivated by the hard work he saw his teammates put forth and said he made it his mission to meet that level, if not exceed it.
That didn’t change as he moved up the ranks from freshman ball to junior varsity to varsity as a junior last season, when he appeared in all of Belton’s 11 games in 2018, making 29 tackles while part a senior-heavy linebacker rotation — a group that had an impact on his growth as a player.
“They taught me what it was to be a linebacker and how it felt to be a part of a group of brothers, and that’s something that I’ve carried over to this year,” he said. “I’ve always been the little brother and this year I’ve had to step up and try to be the big brother. I’m sure I didn’t do a perfect job but I love those guys more than anything and I’d lay out for them any day. And I try my hardest to be a big brother.”
Milligan had a career-high 11 tackles in last week’s season opener and earned the team’s weekly overall MVP honor, individual recognition that took a back seat in the wake of the Tigers’ 48-0 loss to Austin Westlake. He said practices have been intense in the aftermath of the less-than-ideal start to the year, and he’s confident that Belton (0-1) will make strides during tonight’s home debut against Round Rock (1-0) at Tiger Field.
“I promise you, we’re working to get better. The amount of work that these guys put in, it makes you want to work harder. That’s the reason why I stayed in football. It’s for moments like these,” Milligan said. “It’s adversity. We hit it. It’s about the second and third games now to see how we react to it.”
That sounds like someone who’s all about athletics — especially football.