LAKE LINDEN, Mich. (WJMN) – James Milkey has always been an exceptional talent during his time playing football at Lake Linden High School, but it was a position change last season from tight end to the backfield that helped the senior reach his full potential.

“Last year, that went Coach Gervais texted me and said that he wanted me to play back this year,” said James Milkey, a senior running back and linebacker for the Lakes. “Instantly, I was like, ‘I can’t wait.’ So, I went out there and it just felt perfect. It was exactly what I was waiting for.”

This season Milkey has flourished as the primary ball carrier for the Lakes. He was named to the Great Lakes 8 West Division First Team after rushing the ball 119 times for 875 yards, notching 16 touchdowns while converting 6 two-points attempts.

“He’s a leader,” said Brett Gervais, the head coach for the Lakes. “He’s one of our captains. He worked really hard in the weight room in the offseason and he’s kind of been a really good leader for the younger guys to look at and say, ‘Okay, this is what I have to do to become a really good player.'”

Like any good leader, Milkey credits the guys up front for a lot of his success this season. One player that has helped lead the way for the Lakes running game is fellow Great Lakes 8 West First-Teamer Kirby Koskela.

“Most of what we do is having lineman that can get the job done upfront,” said Gervais. “Part of it is being physical but part of it is being smart. So, being able to think through a certain front that they’re giving you, a twist, or whatever stunt the linebackers are running. Kirby is really the brains or our offensive line and really our defensive line as well.”

For all of his offensive accomplishments, Milkey might be equally as impressive on the defensive side of the football. He’s proven to be the ultimate chess piece for the Lakes all over the field.

“He’s a guy that if there is another player on the other team that we need him to guard, he will go guard him playing, you know, defensive back. If we have to have him play on the line offensively he’ll do that as well. “

Lake Linden-Hubbell’s biggest win came last Friday night in the district semifinals at Forest Park.

“I think the team is pretty happy and proud after that kind of a win, especially against Forest Park,” said Milkey. “They beat us last year in the playoffs and that hurt. So it was really nice to come over and win this game.”

“Last year, we obviously lost to Crystall Falls in the playoffs,” said Gervais. “I think this year given our junior class, we have a little bit bigger junior class, giving them a taste of what that feels like in a really big game and good atmosphere. Having that success is something we can play off of for years to come, hopefully.”

Their reward for a big postseason road win? A shot at the defending back-to-back state champion North Central Jets.

“It’s going to be a very big game for us and it’s going to be a very big game in the U.P,” said Milkey. “North Central, obviously everyone knows they’ve been doing really well the last few years. So, this is going to be huge to see if we can prove ourselves.”

“I really believe that North Central is the premiere team right now in 8-man, it’s pretty clear that they are,” said Gervais. “Everything they do offensively and defensively is fantastic. We had a chance at them earlier in they year and it obviously didn’t go our way. We’re going to try to learn from that and just compete every single play that we can and that’s all we can ask from our guys. We’ve responded well in the last 3-4 games of the year especially with last week beating a team that had already beaten us. So, we’re hoping to try to take that momentum in and do our best.”