Miller's time is now
Huber Heights Wayne junior quarterback Braxton Miller already is one of the nation's most sought after 2011 recruits.
We take a look back at his progress and what people are saying about him across high school football.
HUBER HEIGHTS, Ohio – I distinctly recall one of the first high school football games I covered for the 2007 season.
Huber Heights Wayne and Colerain tangled in the Friday nightcap of the Tenth Annual Skyline Chili Crosstown Showdown at Miami University’s Yager Stadium.
In a tightly-contested matchup, Wayne junior quarterback Ryan Bitsko went down with an injury and the backup signal caller head coach Jay Minton inserted had all of us in the press box grabbing for the program to see who this kid was.
Wayne Roster…No. 5…Braxton Miller…DB/QB…6-2…190…Fr.
“Wait a minute. This kid is a freshman,” I said to one of my colleagues.
Though he was a modest 10-of-15 passing for 149 yards and two interceptions, Miller’s spark was able to keep Wayne in the game against a Colerain team that finished state semifinalists the previous season.
Wayne ultimately lost the game 19-7 but Miller’s showing was the headline. This youngster’s raw talent was unmistakable and his composure under such intimidating circumstances was more than impressive.
“He came alive,” Minton told me after the game. “He’s not a freshman anymore. Not after that. Not when you line up against Colerain. You’re not a freshman anymore.”
Colerain head coach Tom Bolden added, “Anytime you can run like that and you have an arm like that – that is something special. They have a good one there.”
Miller had officially been introduced to high school football – and – high school football had officially been introduced to Braxton Miller.
Bursting Onto The Scene
Miller was 93-of-152 passing for 1,048 yards, nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 10 games as a freshman. He also tallied 303 yards rushing on 93 carries and five touchdowns as Wayne finished 7-3 narrowly missing the Division I, Region 4 playoffs.
But Miller remembers in detail being baptized by fire in that season-opening game.
“I can’t forget that,” he said. “It was my first varsity game and came in at halftime and I did more than I expected I’d do. I just went out there and played how I know how.
“(Colerain) was big and it was my first time playing varsity football but I got it done.
“I wasn’t nervous at all. I watched the first half and how the game was going and didn’t think it was too bad. I went out there and had my composure and it was a good experience.”
Sophomore Slump – Sort Of
Miller picked up right where he left off as a sophomore improving his game in the offseason with the postseason on his mind.
Then Wayne traveled to Clayton Northmont with a perfect 5-0 record and Miller went down with a broken leg in the third quarter.
Miller was down but he wasn’t out.
“Throughout my injury, I had to sit out of school for a couple of weeks because I couldn’t walk,” he recalled. “I went to rehab everyday and hit the weight room and watched film a lot with the defensive coaches and I learned a lot last year without being (on the field).”
Miller forwent the basketball season to focus on getting back in shape for football.
“I got in the weight room and worked really hard and that paid off, too,” he said. “I got a lot bigger and gained weight. My strength got better and from the neck up I got better learning the game.”
Minton feels the injury was beneficial for Miller in the long run as well.
“He had that injury last year but I think that really matured him,” he said. “That made him step away from the game and helped him realize that this could all be taken away at any moment. I think he values it a lot more now and knows he has a lot of work to do.”
In six games, Miller was 59-of-113 passing for 642 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. He also had 234 yards rushing on 54 carries and six touchdowns.
Wayne finished 8-4 reaching the Division I, Region 4 semifinals.
Back Under Center
Miller, who is currently ranked as the top prospect in the state by Ohio High magazine for the 2011 class, was more than anxious to get this season underway following his sophomore injury. With Michigan recruits Terrence and Terry Talbot lining up at cornerback and defensive tackle, respectively, and Wisconsin linebacker recruit Josh Harrison also suiting up for Wayne, expectations were high for the Warriors faithful in the preseason.
Wayne opened with wins over Cincinnati Princeton and Canton McKinley before losing at home to Cleveland Glenville 57-28 in a marquee match up. The 21-19 win over Trotwood-Madison put Wayne’s mark at 4-1 but the win was bittersweet.
Once again, Miller was on the shelf suffering a deep thigh bruise against the Rams.
“It has been a little bit of a roller coaster (season),” Miller said. “It started off good and went downhill with the Glenville game and after Trotwood I had the deep thigh bruise and that was painful. I couldn’t walk on it and had to sit out two games.”
Freshman Javon Harrison stepped in completing 24-of-61 pass attempts for 254 yards with two touchdowns and five interceptions. He also had 59 yards rushing and a touchdown.
But Wayne lost both games with Miller on the bench to fall to an even 3-3.
“(Harrison) did well but we didn’t come out with the wins and that hurt us for the playoffs,” Miller said.
Season On The Brink
Miller returned in Week 7 and led Wayne to wins over Kettering Farimont and Beavercreek to set up last week’s match up against rival Centerville with a Greater Western Ohio Conference Central Division title on the line and playoff hopes hanging by a thread.
He responded by playing arguably the best game in his high school career leading all rushers with 176 yards on 14 carries and four touchdowns while completing 12-of-17 pass attempts for 160 yards with a touchdown and an interception in the 42-20 win.
“We came out to play that game last week and practiced hard all week and just got after it,” said Miller. “We got the offense up and tried to score every time. We had to get ahead so they wouldn’t get ahead on us and we just had to pound the ball away.”
A win over Springfield (6-3) Friday will lock up a second straight postseason berth for Wayne (6-3).
“I feel it’s going to be a big game,” Miller said. “We just have to come out like we did against Centerville and just play as one team.”
Of course, Springfield features linebacker Trey DePriest, who is ranked as the No. 4 prospect in the state for the 2011 class. Miller and DePriest grew up playing pee-wee football together through middle school.
“We’re close friends. I grew up with him since we were little,” Miller said. “I had a chance to go to Wayne and play in a different football style so I had to do what I had to do to get better.”
Miller didn’t have the opportunity play against DePriest last season as he was recovering from the broken leg injury.
“This week, it’s going to be exciting and it’s going to be fun to play against each other again,” he said. “He’s going to come out there and play for his team and I respect that and that’s what I’ve got to do for mine.”
And it is all in good, competitive fun for both.
“There’s no trash-talking, we just laugh and crack jokes,” Miller said.
From Local Headliner To National Spotlight
As Ohio’s top junior prospect, Miller has gotten plenty of national attention early on and is even penciled in as one of the first players to receive a bid for the 2012 Under Armour All-America game, according to Minton.
And schools from all over the country have taken notice with scholarship offers to Ohio State, Georgia, LSU, Miami (Fla.), Michigan, UCLA and West Virginia in hand, just to name a several.
But Miller isn’t concentrating on recruiting just yet.
“Right now, I’m looking at colleges but I am not too focused on where I want to go yet,” he said. “I’m just thankful God put me in a good place with my athletic ability. It’s going real fast right now and I am growing up fast.”
Opting to forgo basketball season once again, Miller said he is going to visit some schools this winter.
Still Work To Be Done
Miller is still, by far, not a finished product as a quarterback – and he will be the first to say so.
He has often been compared to Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor as a run first quarterback – a comparison he is not real fond of.
“I just try to work on my game, especially passing, because I don’t want to go to college and just run the ball,” he said. “So, I just have to work on my passing and I think I have gotten better at that since freshman year.”
Minton has noticed that improvement.
“Braxton is still in the development stage and he will always be in the development stage because that is just the way he is. He will always try and get better and I think that is the neatest thing about him – his competitiveness and his will to be better.
“He’s really done a great job this year and has matured a lot leading this team. He’s just so competitive that when we need something, he usually can get it done. Last year, guys would just wait for him to make a play because he is so talented but this year they’ve stepped up and helped him make plays around him.”
In Good Company
From his first varsity game as a freshman, it was clear Braxton Miller was going to be a special football player. Minton knew it, Bolden knew it and everyone who took in that game against Colerain knew it.
Centerville head coach Ron Ullery knew it, too.
“For two years I have said that is the best high school football player I have ever seen. He’s it,” Ullery after last week’s game.
“He was really good as a freshman and he has just gotten better. He is bigger, stronger and faster but he was very fast and very strong as a freshman, too. He’s calm, he’s cool and he’s extremely athletic. There is nothing he can’t do.”
Quite the praise from a man who has coached numerous players that went on to major Division I colleges and the NFL, most recently, Ohio State product Green Bay Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk.
“Wow, he really said that?” Miller asked in shock.
But he doesn’t let such compliments go to his head.
“I just take it in and try not to get a big head about it. I am just thankful and I just go out there and try to show my athletic ability and what I can do,” he said. “I just try to stay grounded and stay focused on school and come out every day and work hard and hopefully it pays off in the end.”