A year ago Annandale's James Milliner was an important, but often overshadowed performer in the Atoms' backfield. Richard Roberts, an outstanding running back, saw most of the action and got most of the headlines.

But what a difference a year makes. After six games in 1990 Milliner has become the region's number one topic of conversation.

Already over the 1,000-yard mark, Milliner has led the Atoms to a 5-1 record while anchoring the most productive offense in the region. With four games remaining in the regular season the muscular 6-foot-1, 190-pound senior is rushing towards the greatest single season of any Annandale running back.

In last week's 48-7 rout of Stuart, Milliner was "held" to 118 yards, his second lowest output of the season. However, he raised his season total to 1,093 yards on only 92 attempts -- an average of almost 12 yards a carry. His two touchdowns against the Raiders gives him 17 on the season, the most of any player in the Washington area. And there is little debate concerning his methods.

"He's very fast," said Lake Braddock Coach Francis Dall, whose Bruins were victimized for 247 yards by Milliner. "You can't let him loose in the open field or you'll have a tough time catching him."

In fact, you don't catch him. His breakaway speed has resulted in touchdown runs of 62, 58, 56, 60, 99, 49 and 30 yards. He also has a 89-yard kickoff return.

"The one thing I would say right away about him is if he gets his shoulders turned up field -- he's gone," said Fairfax Coach Tom Verbanic whose Rebels were struck for 274 yards by Milliner. "He's a big, tough runner, but his speed just makes him deadly."

But it hasn't always been this way for the personable Milliner. As a sophomore hs split time in the Atoms backfield and last season he gained about 600 yards but missed several games with a broken hand. In addition, events outside of football often proved to be major distractions. But no longer.

"This year I'm a lot more focused than last year. I'm a lot more disciplined and it's paying off," said Milliner. "I haven't had any outside problems and its easier to focus."

"{He's surprised me} very much. Last year he was pretty inconsistent," said Annandale Coach Dick Adams. "But he really worked hard in the off season and since the day we started practice he has really taken charge."

With Milliner leading the way, Adams' Atoms have become the most prolific offensive team in the region. In the last three games Annandale has averaged over 49 points per contest and for the year the Atoms are putting up 36 points per game. And Adams isn't the only one surprised by the rejuvenated running back.

"I think it's a surprise. I didn't think that I would do this well," said Milliner. "But now I'm trying to get {former Annandale running back} Mike Lucido's record and I have a lot of things to look forward to."

Lucido set the Annandale mark with 1,637 yards, a stat Milliner quickly quotes off the top of his head. And barring injury, Milliner should shatter the 18-year old mark.

His 274-yard performance against Fairfax set the Atoms' single game record and he is well within reach of Jeff VonBeulwitz's marks for touchdowns (20) and scoring (120 points) set in 1962. Also, if he maintains his current average he will smash Doug Brown's record of 9.5 yards per carry set in 1959.

While this type of success on the football field is new to Milliner, he had already opened eyes on the track. Milliner is the Potomac District's defending champion in the 100 (10.57 seconds) and 200-meter (22.3) dashes. He also anchored the championship 4x100 relay team making his track prowess just a preview of things to come.

"I watched him in track and it was kind of a scary feeling," said Verbanic. "You could see the speed and, of course, he was bigger than everybody {else running the sprints.}"

Against T.C. Williams, the Atoms' only loss, Milliner scored on a 60-yard breakaway. But he managed only 32 yards on 10 other carries against the Titans super-quick defense. However, with both teams headed on a playoff course, it's not unlikely that the Atoms and Milliner will get another shot at the area's second-ranked team.

"The major problem was {T.C. Williams} was a lot more aggressive than our line. They have a good defense and they were in our face all night long," Milliner said. "But I think we're going to get them next time."