Brandon Milholland experienced some of the highest highs and the lowest lows in his 10 years as head coach of the Cedaredge Bruins football team. Milholland is leaving CHS, where he's also athletics director and assistant principal, and returning to his alma mater, Grand Junction Central High School, where he'll be head football coach.
Sitting in his office on the last day of school, nails in the walls marking where once plaques and photos hung, Milholland reflected on his decade at CHS. "It's been a real pleasant place to work," he said. "What I'll remember most is the kindness and the character of the people out here. The people really care, every day, about getting better and being the best they can be, whether it's in the classroom or on the athletic field."
CJ Cannell has been named assistant principal and athletic director, and Craig Cerise will take over as head football coach.
Milholland graduated from Central High in 1998, where he was an all-state quarterback. He played football for Mesa State College, now Colorado Mesa University, for five seasons and was starting quarterback his junior and senior year. After college he returned to Central for seven years as an English teacher and assistant baseball and football coach.
"I just had visions of being head football coach," said Milholland. "I wanted to see what it was like to do things my way."
He applied for head coaching jobs in the Grand Junction area, including at Fruita Monument, but was passed over, with the suggestion he seek a job at a smaller school. Almost immediately he learned that Cedaredge was looking for a head football coach.
After two losing seasons, in 2012, the Bruins won the Class 1A state title. The school also got a state-of-the-art weight training room, thanks to the generosity of the community, Ken and Cheryl Gates, and design help from former football teammate and CMU strengthening coach Dan Lincicome. "It's top of the line," said Milholland. "It's been a really cool thing for this school."
Then there was the low. A year after winning the state title, the Gates' oldest son, star student-athlete and Bruins lead running back Reid Gates, died from carbon monoxide poisoning. "He was such a tremendous athlete and young man from such a great family," said Milholland.
As football coach, he said, "At that point it's not about wins and losses, and it's not about Xs and Os or performance on the field. It's about using that platform to be a good person. I just wanted to be a supportive person for everyone in the community."
It wasn't the first tragedy for Milholland, who lost his mother in a car crash at age 27, but it challenged him in different ways. "These are the experiences that change and shape people," he said. "Absolutely you grow from tragedy, you find out who you are. You see how people handle those situations."
Looking back, said Milholland, it's his experiences over the past decade, good and bad, that have shaped him and prepared him for what's next. It's impossible to know what would be different today had he gotten that Fruita Monument job, he said. But he doesn't regret it. "I'm just really thankful for the experiences," he said. "Overall, it's been real positive."