Oralndo Dr. Phillips safety Matt Milano was not accustomed to sitting on the bench.
He had started every game he ever competed in since playing in the Mighty Might classification for Dr. Phillips’ Pop Warner team.
So watching and not playing was difficult.
Milano, then a sophomore, was relegated to backup duty in 2010 and was more or less a bystander for the Panthers’ run to the state championship game.
“Thinking about how I used to be playing in every game and then having to watch everbody else play, it was tough, but I got over it,” Milano said.
In fairness to Milano, he was backing up nationally-ranked safety prospects Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix (now at Alabama) and Roderick Ryles (Pittsburgh).
The opportunity to learn from polished veterans gave Milano the chance pick up subtle nuances of the game and to mature physically.
Then as a junior, Milano made up for lost time with a breakout season, leading the Panthers with 123 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, four sacks and three forced fumbles last year.
“I think me having to wait my turn to play really helped me get to where I’m at now,” Milano said. “It really showed me little things what to do here and there ... sometimes if you jump into it too fast, you really don’t know what you’re doing.”
Milano (6-1, 195) is ranked No. 86 on the Sentinel’s 2013 Florida Top 100 and proved last season that he was up to the task of replacing Clinton-Dix, Ryles and other talented defenders such as linebacker LaQuentin Smith and cornerback Ryan Luckett.
The Panthers returned just one returning starter from the 2010 defense in linebacker Phillip Amone, who tore his ACL in the regular season.
Once the BYU commit went down, Milano was asked to take over an inexperienced defensive squad.
“Everybody thought we weren’t going to be that good,” Milano said. “Then Phillip Amone went down and then they were like ‘oh, you guys definitely aren’t going to be good’ and then I just had to pick up the team.”
Colleges took note of Milano’s stellar 2011 season. UConn, Rutgers and UCF have shown a lot of interest in the Long Island, N.Y., native, although none have offered yet. His is high on their boards, however, and should garner more attention once combine results from this past weekend are released.
Milano finished with an impressive SPARQ score of 105.51 during Sunday’s Nike SPARQ Combine at Winter Garden West Orange High. His score is currently ranked 11th in the nation after four stop son the Nike SPARQ tour.
He ran 4.64-second electronically timed 40-yard dash, showing that he has the speed and athleticism to go with his gaudy statistics.
Big things are expected from Milano in 2012, also. He will be paring with South Lake safety transfer Marcell Harris, who is regarded as one of the top players in the nation at his position.
The safety duo could rival that of 2010’s Clinton-Dix and Ryles combo.
That might seem a bit farfetched because Milano is under-the-radar at this point and news about Harris’ February transfer is still making the rounds, so in a way, Milano is still living in the shadows of Clinton-Dix and Ryles as if it were 2010 again.
That doesn’t bother Milano though. He knows the secret about him will be out eventually and said he and Harris can bring a unique skillset to the Panthers’ defense that would compare to what Clinton-Dix and Ryles offered.
“That’s what I think, but I haven’t heard anybody else say that,” Milano said.
He could very well be right.
Brendan Sonnone is the Sentinel's recruiting correspondent and can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Brendan on Twitter at @BSonnone or Facebook at Brendan Sonone or at Orlando Sentinel Recruiting.