Greg Milledge

Portage's Greg Milledge has 19 catches for 472 yards and six touchdowns.

John J. Watkins, File, The Times

Speed is a lethal weapon on a football field, where sometimes its mere presence can alter defensive strategies.

Portage coach Darren Rodriguez noticed it the couple games this season when wide receiver Greg Milledge was sidelined by a thumb injury. Those defensive backs who had to lay back to respect his vertical threat were much more inclined to creep up to the line of scrimmage.

"He gives us that big play capability," Rodriguez said. "You could tell when we didn't have him. We still had Angel (Sanchez), but it helps to have one on both sides."

Part of Portage's state runner-up 400-meter relay as a sophomore, Milledge runs a 4.6 second, 40-yard dash and has made great strides in becoming more than just a fast guy who can run deep routes.

"As a sophomore, I was just quick," Milledge said. "My junior year, I started to get a little technique into it. Last summer. I went to multiple football camps to work on my technique as a receiver. I try to work on my blocking, too. It's not just running routes."

The numbers — 19 catches — would undoubtedly be better in a more pass-oriented offense — Portage runs three times for every throw it attempts — but when Milledge gets the ball, he doesn't mess around. He has six touchdowns and averages just under 25 yards per catch.

"Some of the things he does, it's almost freakish," Rodriguez said. "He looks the part. He has the skill set. He's an athlete. He has big hands. He had a great summer and it just led into the season."

While Portage's attack revolves around quarterback Anthony Maceo and the running game, Maceo is nearing 1,000 yards through the air, thanks in large part to Milledge.

"We're clicking this year," Milledge said. "He's giving me the ball where I can get it. Last year, he was throwing good, but sometimes it was my fault, me running the wrong routes. Our chemistry's gotten better."

Though the long balls continue to be his forte, Milledge has become more adept at being able to do more than just race past defenders.

"If the corner plays deep, I can run a hitch or a slant," he said. "It all depends on the formations. My best thing is I can stop, use my footwork to shift and then explode. It makes me harder to guard, being able to go over the middle and not just catch the deep ball."

There still isn't anything better than those plays when the safety help doesn't slide over and Milledge gets that prized one-on-one matchup. Pity the poor cornerback.

"I see a guy who thinks he can guard me and really can't, it makes me happy," he said. "It's a good feeling."

Also a basketball player, the 6-foot, 185-pound Milledge has spread his athletic talents around during high school and is intrigued by the prospect of being able to narrow his scope at the next level.

"If it happened, it would be like a dream come true," he said. "Playing just one sport, I couldn't wait to see the success I could have. I'd just get better and better."

Not to mention being in a more pass-friendly scheme.

"It's not like we're chucking it around," Rodriguez said. "He's improved, but he can get even better. He's never really focused on anything. If he decides to focus on one sport and can put in the time, becoming more consistent, the sky's the limit for him."

With Crown Point bottling up Maceo's running the first time, Milledge had his biggest yardage night (138) against Crown Point. He'll need to be a difference maker for the Indians when they face the Bulldogs again tonight with a sectional title on the line.

"Portage hasn't won one in over a decade," Milledge said. "It would be the greatest experience Portage football's had in a while."

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Sports reporter

Jim was keeping standings on his chalkboard from the time he could print and keeping kickball stats in grade school at St. Bridget's. He covers all manner of prep sports for The Times and is a long-suffering Chicago Cubs fan.