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Carthage’s Wilkinson has ultimate support of coach

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CARTHAGE — It may be coachspeak, but when Carthage football coach Sam Millich says he and senior quarterback Bailey Wilkinson “are on the same page,” you tend to believe him.

The veteran coach is showing the ultimate faith in his senior leader not only to make the right decisions, but to call many of his own plays this season.

In the past, Millich has called the plays from the sidelines, necessitating his quarterback run the 25 yards from the huddle to the sidelines and back on almost every offensive play. But because Wilkinson has “such a great grasp of what we want to do,” according to Millich, “we’re giving him the freedom to make many of those decisions himself.”

Wilkinson is a grateful for Millich’s faith in his abilities. “I know it’s going to put more pressure on me, but I think I’m ready,” Wilkinson said. “Besides, my offensive line and my backs and receivers give me a lot of help, so it’s not just me.”

Carthage fans got only a small sampling of what Wilkinson means to the Carthage offense last season. Coming off a hamstring injury in summer lacrosse, the 5-foot-10, 160-pounder did not play the first two games with the Comets’ varsity a year ago.

Over the last six games, Wilkinson rushed for 412 yards, an average of 5.1 yards per carry, scored two touchdowns and passed for 364 yards and two more touchdowns. And he finished by gaining 150 yards on 29 carries in a Section 3 loss to Nottingham.

“It was obvious that Bailey had a knack for making plays,” Millich said. “He knows how to create space, when and when not to keep the ball, and is elusive enough to not take a lot of big hits.”

And what makes Wilkinson unusual for Millich is that he is the first starting quarterback in the last five years to return for a second season. All the others have mainly been seniors getting their first taste of starting.

“His familiarity with the program is key,” Millich said. “Bailey has been around here since 2007 when he was a manager. He’s seen the highs and lows and what it takes to be successful in our league. We knew several years ago he was probably our quarterback of the future.”

Wilkinson remembers watching that 2007 team’s great run to the Section 3 Class A crown and then making it to the state semifinals before losing to Rochester Aquinas.

“The Grimm brothers and guys like (quarterback) Zach Mulvaney and Dave Gallagher were my idols,” Wilkinson said. “This year’s team reminds me a lot of that one, with plenty of senior leadership and great players on both sides of the ball.”

Wilkinson, a standout attackman on the Carthage lacrosse team who made the Times All-North first team this past spring, said he worked hard over the summer to improve in several areas.

“I’ve gotten stronger in the weight room, and did a lot of passing drills,” Wilkinson said. “But I’m going to rely on my teammates and our core group of veterans to make this team as successful as we think we can be.”

Millich said the key ingredient in his allowing his quarterback more freedom is “he really understands our offense because he’s been running it since modified. Bailey is a smart kid, a great student on and off the field. So he can grasp everything we’ve thrown at him.”

Wilkinson believes his time on the lacrosse field also benefits his play at quarterback. “I’m always looking for the open man in lacrosse, so my vision has become a lot better. That really helps when you’re looking for a receiver, or that open spot downfield on a run.”

Millich also has an ulterior motive in leaving Wilkinson to make his own calls. “We want to run more plays, to put more pressure on the defense to adjust,” Millich said. “Without him coming to the sidelines each play, we can keep defenses guessing. Hopefully, we can get our athletes more touches and maybe tire out the defense a little bit more.”

Wilkinson realizes that his play can well determine how far the Comets go this season. “It’s part of the job,” he said. “If the quarterback does well, teams usually win. But I’m so confident in the guys around me that I believe we have the potential to be a great team by the end of the season.”

“Like most of our seniors, Bailey takes a lot of pride in our program,” Millich said. “He’s become one of the real leaders on the field with his work ethic and attention to detail.”

Wilkinson will play lacrosse at the college level, and would like to study environmental science. But while lacrosse is probably his future, football will always be special.

“There’s nothing like a Friday night under the lights getting ready for a big game,” he said. “That’s what I’ll miss the most.”

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