WILLMAR -- When Ridgewater College football coach Rob Baumgarn put the stopwatch on Adam Milton in practice last spring, he was amazed and pleased when the Miami product ran a gazelle-like 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
And Milton utilized that speed to intercept three passes in a game against Fond du Lac. And he scooped up a fumble against Itasca and outraced everyone to the end zone for a 35-yard touchdown.
The young man had a stellar freshman season at cornerback for the Warriors. And Baumgarn figured he didn't have to worry about that position this season.
But things changed quickly early Sunday morning when Milton was stabbed to death outside his apartment following an altercation near the college north of Willmar.
"He was a great kid," said Baumgarn, who was at the Rice Memorial Hospital emergency room when Milton was pronounced dead. "He was very outgoing and had a vivid smile that would light up a room. He had a knack for attracting people to him because he was so likeable."
According to a press release from the Willmar Police Department, two 17-year-old males had fled the scene on foot as Milton lay in the grass outside the apartment with stab wounds to the chest.
The suspects were found hiding nearby and taken into custody by police. One of the suspects is currently being held at the Prairie Lakes Detention Center with charges pending. The other suspect was released.
The names of the suspects are currently being withheld because of their juvenile status. The case is still under investigation.
Milton, 21, was attending classes this summer at Ridgewater and was working at Roosevelt Elementary for a work study program.
"Adam was trying to improve his grades and was working hard," said Baumgarn. "He was struggling a little last fall and had made himself a solid 3.0 (grade-point-average) student. He loved playing football and didn't want his grades to keep him from playing."
Justin Melhado, who is from Orlando, Fla., was Milton's roommate while the two attended summer classes. He also is a defensive back on the football team.
"We met up here and instantly became friends," said Melhado. He was one of the most genuine people I've ever known. He was always there for you, no matter what. He would always put others ahead of himself."
According to witnesses at the scene, Milton and two friends had been in an altercation with the two juveniles. A few punches were thrown and the juvenile suspect being held fled on foot. Milton chased after him and caught him and the two scuffled in the grass.
During the struggle, Milton was stabbed in the chest and the juvenile ran off.
"The night before this happened, Adam and I were singing and laughing," said Melhado. "It's just so hard to believe he's gone."
Milton came to Minnesota to play football and because he wanted to get away from his Miami neighborhood where gangs and violence were prevalent.
While in Minnesota, Milton found out one of his close friends had been shot and killed in Miami.
"He felt guilty for not being there for his friend," said Baumgarn. "But he also felt good that he made the right decision to come here and get away from the violence. Then he ends up getting killed here. It's really sad."
Milton was a standout football player at Hollywood Christian High School in Miami. The 5-foot-10, 170-pound defensive back enrolled at Ridgewater in the education department and was planning to become an elementary teacher.
"He loved kids," said Baumgarn. "He came over to our house for supper after his friend was killed and he played with our boys all night. They really liked him."
Milton worked with kids in youth football camps as well and always left a positive impression, according to Melhado and Baumgarn.
Milton also left an impression on the football field. He had 42 tackles in nine games for the Warriors last fall. He also intercepted three passes in one game against Fond du Lac and returned a fumble 35 yards for a touchdown against Itasca.
"He could have been a Division II or maybe even a lower Division I player," said Baumgarn. "He had all the tools. He was a quiet leader who liked to have fun, but also knew when to get serious and he would let his teammates know that."
Melhado said Milton always referred to himself as "Big Play Eight" in reference to his knack for coming up with a big play when the team needed one and also after his uniform number.
Captain's practice starts today for the Warriors. Milton had been named a captain prior to his death. The team will hold practice as a way of remembering Adam and also to help each other cope with his death.
"Adam would have wanted the team to practice," said Baumgarn.
The Warriors will wear a decal with the number eight on their helmets this season to honor Milton.
"I'm going to give his jersey to his mother," said Baumgarn. "And as long as I'm the coach, no one will wear number eight.
"Adam was always so proud to wear the Ridgewater colors. You hardly ever saw him without a Ridgewater shirt or jacket on."
Milton was not known to go looking for trouble. He was more apt to shy away from it as evidenced by his leaving his friends and home state to rid himself of any pressure situations.
"Like the last line of the movie, Brian's Song," Baumgarn said. "We want to remember Adam not for how he died, but for how he lived."
NOTE -- To help the Milton family with funeral expenses, Ridgewater College has set up a memorial fund. To contribute, call the Ridgewater Foundation at 320-222-5200 or Rob Baumgarn at 320-214-7165.