Oct. 24, 2012
UMass Athletics caught up with Stephan Milhim to talk football, life, and what it takes to play offensive line. Despite being one of the largest athletes on the team, Stephan got a late start playing football as the Floridian who spent his early years growing up in Haiti was an accomplished soccer player before hitting the gridiron in high school. Stephan also talks about his keys to success and how football at UMass has helped him mature and prepare for life after college.
What made you decided to come to UMass?
It really wasn't a hard decision for me. Along with the interest from the football program, I know the school was strong academically. I knew about the tradition of success with the football program so everything combined made it so attractive. On my visit, Vladimir Ducasse was my host and he was great. Everyone I met on the team or associated with the team was terrific as well. There were a lot of guys already here from Florida, so I said to myself that if they could make that transition then so could I.
What did you think about the area when you first got here?
At first I thought, "wow this campus is huge." I was worried about how I would be able to find things or even get to class. Of course after you are here for a while, it feels like home and doesn't seem so big anymore. The campus was definitely a plus when I first saw it.
Being from Florida, what was the biggest transition for you when you moved up here?
Obviously the weather was different from Florida. The people were different too at first - not in a bad way, but just different. The weather was probably the biggest thing to deal with because I was so used to being in 85 degree weather. Even in the winter time, it rarely would hit 50 back home. After a while though, you just adapt to it like anything else - it's still cold but you're not freezing anymore!
What has been your best experience since you have been at UMass?
Do you ever look back and realize how much things have changed since those first days?
There have been a lot of things that have happened to me since I've been here that I feel fortunate and blessed to have experienced. Growing up and learning to be a man is probably one of the biggest life changes I've undergone here. When I got to UMass, I was 17 years old, wide-eyed, had no real idea what to do. I had to mature quickly and learn to be responsible and accountable for my actions. Those were some life lessons I had to learn both with football and outside of it.
I do look back every now-and-again and I wonder about just how I did it. I didn't have a single clue when I first got here as to how I was going to manage a lot of different things. With the help of our academic people, our support staff, coaches and everyone else involved in the process things became easier as my career moved along.
When you see new guys come into the program now, do you try to help them find their path some?
I definitely do. I try to be a little more vocal with them. Check in on how they are doing and just talk with them. I understand where they are coming from; especially the guys who are up here from Florida. Sometimes you get homesick so it's important to be reminded to keep your head up. I try to let them know that I was able to do it, so they will be able to as well. You just have to believe in the system and find your way within it.
Markin Michel has said that all the players from Florida work well together and you have a bond that other's don't have, is that true?
People from Florida come from the same background and areas and when you find someone from your hometown, you tend to stick together and become close friends. Sometimes you come to find that you've played each other. We have a special bond and always joke around saying that Florida is where all the best athletes come from.
What got you into football?
Honestly, it happened miraculously! I played soccer my whole life and then one day, my freshman year of high school, one of the coaches stopped me, asked if I was a freshman, said I was a "big dude" and then asked if I played any sports. When I told him I played soccer. He stopped me from going home and brought me to his office. He sent me with papers to get my physical and told me to come back next week to start football practice. I didn't know anything about the rules or how to play, and I was really bad at first. I didn't think I liked it and I thought about quitting, but I decided to stick with it. I got bigger, faster, stronger and began to understand the game. Now I'm able to play at the college level.
Rob Blanchflower also said he grew up playing soccer; maybe you should just put a team together?
Well, I'm from the Caribbean, I'm Haitian, so it's in my background.
Were you born in the Caribbean?
No, I was born in Florida, and then right after we moved to Haiti until I was 10, and then moved back to the United States.
When you were here visiting, and Vlad was around, did that serve as a connection between the two of you?
Yes, they told me he was Haitian also, and I looked up to him and wanted to be like him.
Do you have family in Haiti still?
Yes, my father, my aunt, and my grandmother. I haven't been down there recently with me being here for football, but I plan to visit in the near future.
As an offensive lineman, what are some of the fundamental things you have to keep in mind before each play?
Before doing anything, you want to think of the play and run it through your head, and think mentally of what your assignment is and what you have to do. The next most important thing is your stance. When you're in a good stance, it puts you in a good position to make a successful block. If you are in a bad stance, it puts you in a bad position and it makes it harder on yourself to get your job done. There are coaching tips on every play - how your head should be, where your hands should be, how to attack the player, do you want to run or pass - all of these you have to think about before the snap.
Obviously, you have to know where the defense is lined up; what do you look for?
You have to know what defense they are in - for example if they are blitzing or not. There's a lot of stuff to look for. Most people don't realize that offensive line is the hardest position on the field besides quarterback.
Being in the offense now where you are not huddling, how is it when the plays are called? Was it an adjustment?
I think that was the biggest adjustment as offensive line because in the last few years here at UMass, we ran a pro-style offense with a traditional huddle and break, but this is more high-tempo, jet speed offense. You don't have much time to think, you just have to react. So, yes, it was a big adjustment because it forced you to think quickly and be quick on your feet. You also have to be in really good shape to play offense.
Outside of football, what are some things you like to do?
I love hanging out with the guys on the team, they're some of the funniest kids I've ever met. Other than playing football, they make it fun to be here, they know how to lighten the mood, have fun, and have a regular life for the few hours we have off. I enjoy watching movies a lot, hanging out with friends when I have the time, but it's mostly just football and school.
What's something that you think you're good at, or something you really enjoy - like a hobby - that some people may not know about you?
When I meet most people, they don't think I ever played soccer, but I was a pretty good soccer player growing up. I think if I really focused, I could juggle a ball close to 100 times. I played mostly defense and I was goalie, but I was pretty good. One year in high school we were 18-1 and we lost in the semi-finals.
It seems like all that footwork helped as a lineman.
Yes, when schools were recruiting me, they said one of the things they loved was my foot work. They said I was light on my feet and I think soccer had a lot to do with that. From changing direction, stopping and running it helped me a lot.
You said that you liked movies. If someone made a movie about you, what actor would you want to play you?
Well, there aren't many actors who are 6'5 but I think Will Smith would be good. He'd probably have to put on a big suit, but I think he's a great actor and hilarious. Or Denzel Washington would be good too.
What part of your character would you want them to focus on the most?
I'd want him to focus on my personality, because I'm very outgoing and funny. People say all the time that I make them laugh, and that's what Will Smith does, he makes people laugh and he's good at it. So he's someone I can relate to.
You said some of the guys on the team are funny, who do you think has the best sense of humor?
That's a hard one! I think the majority of the team can make each other laugh but Quinton Sales, Ryan Delaire, Alan Williams; those guys are all hilarious.
Who's the best and worst dancer on the team?
I'd have to say Alan Williams is the best dancer. The worst, we have a few of those! Probably Mike McKenna. We call him "Family Guy." He's the worst dancer on the team by far. He has no rhythm at all. No hips, feet, I don't understand how he plays football.
If a young person came up to you asking for advice about how to succeed in football, or life, or anything in general, what is something you might pass along to them?
In being older, when I was younger a lot of guys used to tell me that to succeed, you just need to do the little things right - go to class, attend all the academic meetings - because at the end of the day those people are here to help you. In general, just to have a positive attitude. There will be those times when you're down and don't feel like do something, but you have to look at the big picture. Everyone wants to graduate and make their families happy; all you have to do is go to class and listen to your coaches, they're here to help you succeed, they don't want to see you fail. Also, make friends on the team. If you need help, say something and reach out, don't hold it in because many people won't know how you feel unless you tell them. Lastly, enjoy college. You only have one shot at it and when it's done, it's done. I've been here for four years now and it doesn't even feel like it, it feels like I was a freshman yesterday, it's crazy.