From Sept. 30 to Oct. 1, 2022, while honoring highly esteemed Coach Jim Milhon, the team shared memories of their time at APU and talked about how football lives on forever at this school and beyond.
APU football alumni that were coached under Jim Milhon reunited from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2. The weekend, which had been in the works since APU’s football program was discontinued, celebrated the legacy of APU Football and specifically the impact of Jim Milhon.
To kick off the reunion, the alumni and their families gathered on Friday evening for a soccer tailgate. It was as if no time had passed as stories were shared.
Whether it was singing “The 12 days of Christmas” at UTCC, letting mice out during chapel, moving cars into the cafeteria or BB gun wars, these boys had several creative ways of getting into a healthy dose of mischief.
Greg Grandall ’82 and Norm Slosted ’80 discussed a favorite tradition of “the rock.” The rock, a granite stone, was supposedly 400 or 500 pounds. Engraved on it was “Azusa Pacific College” and the school’s logo. Students would take turns stealing this rock. Whoever had stolen it last was subjected to house break-ins and they had to publicly show the rock during the year. This led one person to carry the rock by helicopter so they could touch it down on the football field during halftime without themselves being seen.
While seemingly off-topic, this rock — which is now missing — represented the larger than life community that APU’s football program helped to create. Football was described by the players’ wives as essential to their college experience and an ingredient that made APU feel like a small town family with unity between all APU athletics. Everyone supported one another. That was the spirit of the rock, and that was the spirit of APU football.
Athletic director Gary Pine ’84 who helped out with athletics during and after his undergrad years, talked about how before Milhon, there were rumors of the APU football team being cut. This was not due to a lack of competitive success or finances but to the negative cultural impact the team was having on the school. Milhon was hired to mold athletes into Christian men, and in doing so, redirected the program.
Tim Klaiber, ’86 who was a key part of making this reunion happen, discussed how APU football coaches cared more about being transformational than using their athletes for their winning glory.
Klaiber said he and his teammates were often shown tough love. He remembers one misbehaving player who always had to sit next to Jon Wallace, APU’s former president, during chapel. Another time, when the team was slacking, one of the coaches chased them up the hill by what was once known as Hillside Campus.
The most personal, however, was when Klaiber made a legal but cheap play in a game. Coach Milhon taught Klaiber a lesson on integrity, telling him that APU football doesn’t participate in such practices.
Klaiber also told his favorite story of Milhon.
At a young age, Klaiber’s father passed away. Like many of his teammates who often held two or three jobs during the season, he came from a working class family. Klaiber wasn’t recruited out of high school but wanted the chance to play. However, during his freshman year, he became injured, which forced him to the position of jock washer.
Despite the setback, Coach Milhon pulled Klaiber into his office to announce that they had found a little bit of money for him. Klaiber told Milhon that others deserved it more, naming star athletes such as Christian Okoye, Jimmy Sims and Jon Hirte.
However, Milhon saw something deeper than Klaiber’s athleticism. He told Klaiber, “We see that you’re going to go out and be a change agent.”
This was an investment in not only Klaiber but in the kingdom of God.
The APU football coaches believed in their athletes. Coach Franson talked about the time when 23-year-old Christian Okoye asked him and Coach Milhon if he could try football. Though Okoye knew next to nothing about the game, the coaches saw his potential which would give him an impressive athletic career with the Kansas City Chiefs.
APU football coaches knew their athletes were only going to play football for so long. Their main goal for the boys was to walk in the spirit of God wherever they went.
Many of the athletes went into sports ministry. At the reunion banquet on Saturday evening, a shocking number of alumni raised their hands to say they coached sports after graduating from APU.
Other memorable moments during the banquet included Jeff Milhon ’83 interviewing his father and college coach, Coach Jim Milhon and the alumni singing the hymn “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.”
These moments captured just how spiritual the weekend was. As Coach Franson said at the four events, “this is sacred ground.”
The weekend finished on Sunday morning during a special chapel service held by the cross dedicated to Milhon on Franson’s field.
Steve Connor ’83 gave a sermon which summarized how football was a ministry here at APU.
Connor described APU football as the ideal incubator to build up compassionate, godly disciples. On the field these young men learned to get out of the boat and walk on water towards Christ.
Jim Milhon’s son and football alumni, Jon Milhon ’85, afterwards talked about how many do not know just how much of a discipleship program football can be. He recited a saying Gary Pine had discussed from Coach Milhon the night before. Coach Milhon would say that if Jesus played football he would be a middle linebacker and would hit you hard but then pick you back up, showing the importance of the high contact sport.
Because of the program’s extreme impact, several of the players were shocked and heartbroken when they found out the program was dropped. Still, many hope that one day football will return to APU. Though some said it would take a miracle for football to return and others thought it could be doable, they all agreed that if football returns, it must be done the way Coach Milhon did it.
Greg Grandell said, “Milhon’s impact needs to be talked about because if they ever do bring back football, they could do football here like they did when I was [in] school. They could have a man that loves Jesus first and who brings a lot of young men who want to come alongside him in their kingdom purpose.”
In the meantime, the legacy of APU football lives on. Klaiber announced that he would be starting up a Milhon family scholarship to give to students who were hardworking but could use financial assistance. This scholarship fund is one of the many ways in which Coach Milhon’s legacy is evident.
To know what this event meant and to know the spirit of APU one must know the story of APU Football. For though its run may be complete, every student has a part of Coach Milhon’s and football’s legacy within them.