Gaven Parker has seen plenty of receivers with one, but not the other.
Logan Middleton has both.
“I think he’s got phenomenal hands. I think he has the will to go get the ball,” Cambridge-South Dorchester High’s former head football coach said of Middleton, the record-setting wide receiver who helped the Vikings reach the Class 1A state semifinals last fall.
“That combination doesn’t always go together,” Parker added. “Sometimes the guys are real competitors and they’ll go get the ball but not have the best hands. Sometime guys will have great hands but not have that competition to the ball. I think he has that ability to do both. He has the great hands and he has the competition to go and get it.”
Middleton hopes to continue showing those qualities next fall when he slips on the pads as a member of McDaniel College’s football team.
“When I first toured McDaniel, it felt like home,” said Middleton, who noted the chance to play with former Viking teammate Jake Morris — a tight end with the Green Terror — also figured into his college plans. “I wanted to get somewhere where it was not too far (from home), but it’s not too close so I meet new people and experience a different life.”
Middleton started receiving praise for his good hands during his Pop Warner days under coach Ben Krewson. He played junior varsity as a freshman at Cambridge-SD and was brought up to varsity toward the end of the season. He then made varsity his sophomore year and played slot, which Parker thought was pivotal in the young receiver’s development.
“I think that allowed him to open up his route tree, because that position runs some different routes,” said Parker, then an assistant to Viking head coach Jake Coleman. “It also allowed him to get comfortable carrying the ball in traffic. Then he goes to the outside (his junior year) and becomes a receiver and he’s able to take those lessons learned and apply them to the receiver position with a little bit more space.”
Middleton developed in two other areas his sophomore year. He began working out with Derrick Beasley, the team’s strength coach, who liked the young receiver’s hands, but knew he had to get stronger and faster to help the team. He also strengthened his pass patterns watching senior teammate Jimmy Schultz.
“I had a great receiver in front of me in Jimmy Schultz that honestly taught me a lot,” Middleton said. “He taught me a lot about my route running, how to carry myself, how to be a great salesman. Running from slot, I already knew how to run those (routes).”
By watching and learning from Schultz, Middleton said he gained a better understanding of “how corners would react, how safeties are going to come down; if that safety is going rise that corner’s going to drop.”
Parker took over as Cambridge-SD’s head coach in 2018, moved Middleton to wideout, and led the Vikings to a 7-3 regular season before a disappointing 32-7 loss to Perryville in the Class 1A East semifinals.
Things would be different a year later.
The Vikings dropped their season opener, went on a seven-game win streak before losing 40-34 in double overtime to arch rival Easton in the regular-season finale. But there would be no early postseason exit this time. The No. 1 seed in the Class 1A East Region, Cambridge-SD defeated Havre de Grace, 47-34, in its opener to earn a second-round date with Fallston, which was focused on stopping the Vikings’ electric senior running back Khalik Beasley.
Beasley finished the game with 172 yards and a touchdown run on 15 carries. But it was the passing game that staked the Vikings to a 21-0 first-quarter lead, as quarterback John Henry hit Malik Ennals with an 8-yard scoring pass before connecting with Middleton on touchdown strikes of 46 and 21 yards.
“Twelve really hurt us,” Fallston head coach Jimmy Grant said of Middleton, who finished the game with six receptions for 151 yards, and would have had more had a third touchdown catch not been negated by a penalty that Parker has yet to see to this day.
“I would say he was some of the reason why it was so difficult for people to defend the whole field versus us,” Parker said of Middleton. “He gave us the ability to take the top off. When you look at it, when you have a team that has the running backs that we have and a receiver to take the top off, it created a lot of mismatches for teams to either stop the pass, or for them to try and stop the run.
“The Fallston game, they spent all week trying to figure out how to stop Khalik, then get gashed by Logan for (over) 100 yards and (two) touchdowns,” Parker continued. “He was certainly a large piece of the puzzle of why we had so much success last year.”
A year that was extended the following week, when Middleton hauled in a 21-yard touchdown pass from Henry in the third quarter for his 11th touchdown reception of the season. That catch broke Coleman’s school single-season record for touchdown receptions, and more importantly gave Cambridge-SD a 23-20 lead in an eventual 36-26 victory over Edmondson in a 1A state quarterfinal — the Vikings’ first road playoff win since 1999.
“I’ve been trying to chase this record for the past four years,” Middleton said afterwards. “To get it at a playoff game is an unbelievable feeling. I’m excited and honored to hold this record.”
Cambridge-SD’s season ended eight days later with a 45-3 loss to Dunbar in the state semifinals.
Middleton finished the season with 30 receptions for 700 yards and 11 touchdowns, earning him first-team All-Bayside Conference honors.
“I’d like to take credit for every touchdown or every great route,” Parker joked. “But sometimes players have to make plays. And he and John spent a lot of time in the summer together, and it showed throughout the season.
“He also has an intuition to find that open space,” Parker continued. “It’s one of those rare things where you talk about (how) him and John Henry were able to connect sometimes on intuition between the two of them.”
But the two biggest reasons for Middleton’s success remain his hands and his desire for the ball.
“That’s what’s got me into college as a receiver,” said Middleton, who also played basketball at Cambridge-SD, and would have been the baseball’s team’s starting shortstop this spring had the coronavirus pandemic not wiped out the entire season. “Every ball I see in the air (was) another opportunity for me to get seen, for people to start understanding the hard work I put in. It’s kind of like, if I want to make something out of myself in this sport, I’ve got to catch every ball. I just feel like every ball I catch is one step (closer) to where I want to be in life.”
Since the end of the season Middleton has added 10 pounds to his 5-foot-7, 165-pound frame, and has been hitting the weights during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I know my high school body is not going to be acceptable at the college level,” Middleton said.
What will be acceptable though, in Parker’s eyes, will be Middleton’s two greatest assets.
“He has battled through a lot of things, but has some great grit,” Parker said. “I think that’s what creates that competition piece in him to go for the ball and to compete with anybody. He certainly wasn’t afraid to compete with anybody. And as a former college football player, I think that’s something that will pay off for him again in the fall with college football; that competition piece, that willingness to just put yourself out there and go get the ball.
“McDaniel’s going to be a spread offense so that should fit him a little bit more,” Parker said of a team that went 3-7 last year. “He’s not the tallest receiver, but I think McDaniel with its offense is going to be able to put him in different positions to be successful with his catching ability and ball-carrying ability.”