- Jane McManus, Reporter & Columnist, espnW.com
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Summers in Millbrook, Alabama have a certain kind of heat. On a 100-degree day, the humidity can cause a person to sweat through their clothes in just a few minutes outside. Before an August football practice at Stanhope Elmore High School, Dee Milliner didn’t try to escape the heat.
Milliner would put on a 20-pound vest and run the mile and a half to practice. He would lift weights, practice and run with his team. Then, Milliner would put his weight vest back on and run all the way back home.
"He’ll be ready to play," said Jeff Foshee, Milliner’s high school coach. "His work ethic is second to none."
Milliner answered maybe a dozen questions about his surgically-repaired shoulder on the first day of the New York Jets' rookie minicamp.
Yes, he expects to be on the field for training camp. The shoulder feels fine but not perfect. He played with the injured labrum for five Alabama games and can’t even imagine sitting one out.
"I ain’t hurting on a game," Milliner said. "Just go out there and play."
Milliner was in No. 27 and appeared on the practice field at the Jets facility for the walk through. He listened as his new coach Rex Ryan barked out plays and shifted accordingly, but then once warmups began, Milliner moved over to the stationary bike and started to peddle.
"With the shoulder it is a long process, you can’t just get out there and jump right back in it because you really can’t swing your arm or anything like that," Milliner said. "Like I said, [I am just] rehabbing and waiting to get back in the roll of things and I should be fine."
Milliner, after all, does have time. Selected with the ninth overall pick in the draft, the cornerback was considered a steal by some analysts. The Jets didn’t expect Milliner to be there at the spot, owner Woody Johnson said the day after the first round, so the Jets selected him knowing the baggage Milliner would necessarily carry as a perceived replacement for Darrelle Revis.
Foshee always believed in Milliner from the moment he started him as a freshman corner and running back in Alabama’s largest high school football division -- one of maybe three freshmen Foshee ever put out there so young. He knew Milliner was different when he witnessed how organized the kid was from the start, able to balance school with football, basketball and track.
Foshee believed it even more from Radio City Music Hall this past April, when Milliner flew him to New York for the NFL draft. He got a moment with his former player after Milliner's name was called, and watched as the mass of NFL media swallowed him up.
"I saw that mob of reporters get a hold of him and I said good luck," Foshee said. "I knew I wasn’t going to see him for a while."
And now, rather than being able to prove himself right away, Milliner will be riding a stationary bike on the sidelines.
"You’re going to go through hard times so you just got to get through them," Milliner said. "Be prepared for them when they do come, just try to fight through them and make the best of it."
The best break for Milliner may just be a quarterback named Geno Smith. Taken by the Jets in the second round, Smith has drawn the lion’s share of the attention. The distraction of Smith may just give Milliner a little more time to heal until he has to prove himself on the next stage.
"It is a great city," Milliner said. "Great place to play football and be a part of."