Like most interior linemen, Don Miller had always dreamed about carrying
the football, even if it was just once.
So when the former LeRoy football standout and current 6-foot-2, 310-pound Alfred University junior defensive lineman approached Saxons head coach Dave Murray back in September about getting a few carries, his coach gave him a shot in practice.
I liked what I saw, said coach Murray. Hes big, strong and had a passion to run the ball.
Miller, who had never ran the football during both high school or college, would get his historical first carry Sept. 16 against St. Lawrence. And he made the best of his golden opportunity as he scored on a 4-yard TD run that helped the Saxons to the 17-14 road victory.
When I crossed the goal line it was like a dream come true, said Miller. It felt great theres no way to describe it. I loved it. It was something I had always dreamed about.
Miller would get 17 more carries, rushing for a total of 86 yards (4.8 avg) while scoring a team-high five touchdowns, with three of his TDs coming during crucial situations. He would hit the end zone in the Saxons 28-17 win over visiting Ithaca Nov. 4, when he scored the game-clinching TD on a 1-yard TD run in the second half. Two weeks later he hit paydirt once again when he scored on a 3-yard TD run during Alfreds 40-34 OT win against visiting University of Rochester Nov. 18.
Hell get the ball some more next year, thats for sure, said coach Murray. He has a nose for the end zone.
Miller might have shown his value to the Saxons short yardage attack but it was his defensive effort that earned him his spot on the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Division III All-American Team, which was announced last week.
Miller finished the season with 57 tackles (34 solo), including six for loss and four sacks. He also had two pass breakups, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble. A First Team Empire 8 Conference all-star this year, Miller anchored a Saxon defense that allowed an Empire 8 Conference-best 256 yards of offense per game and ranked second in the conference in both run and pass defense.
Miller was an honorable mention Empire 8 all-star as a freshman in 2004 and a Second Team conference selection in 2005. A starter since his freshman year, Miller has posted 154 tackles (16.5 for loss) and eight sacks in his career. He has been part of AU teams that have won a school-record 25 games and three ECAC Bowl Championships over the last three seasons. The Saxons capped this season with a 40-34 overtime victory over Rochester in the ECAC Northwest Bowl to finish the year with an 8-3 record (4-2 Empire 8).
Miller is the second AU player to earn AFCA All-American honors. Former standout linebacker Brenton Brady earned the distinction last season. Only 25 Division III players are named to the All-American team. The team was chosen by football coaches throughout the nation.
I was really surprised when Coach (Murray) told me that I had made All-American, said Miller. I couldnt believe it. It was an incredible feeling. You just never think that it could happen to you, and then once it did, I was overwhelmed.
In Millers three seasons at Alfred, he has helped the Saxons to an impressive 25-8 overall record, going 8-3 in both his freshman and junior seasons while posting a 9-2 campaign as a sophomore.
I would like to get to the NCAAs next year, said Miller. Weve had ECAC games the last two years and I want to finish my career in the NCAAs.
Two of Alfreds three losses this season came at the hands of national qualifiers St. John Fisher College (12-2) and Springfield College (10-2).
A big reason for Millers success on both sides of the ball has been his passion for both the weight room and film room.
I spent the summer last year lifting with (Alfred linebacker and LeRoy teammate ) Jake (Syracuse) at Kettles Gym, said Miller, who has bulked up from his 275 pound playing days for the Oatkan Knights to his current 310-pound frame. I also spend a lot of time watching film, which helps me read my position better, read my keys better, which prepares me to make a play when its there.
Syracuse, a 6-foot-1, 240-pound sophomore, plays next to Miller, just like his high school days.
I love playing next to Jake, said Miller. We have developed an incredible trust for one another. Weve had it since weve been little kids we always know what the other is doing. Weve been in the trenches a lot together over the years.
Miller has not only improved his strength and film work etiquette but more importantly he has improved his classroom habits. My grades are getting up there, said Miller. I should have a 3.0 this semester.
When the criminal justice major is finished playing football, big number 99 is looking into becoming a police officer.
I have always wanted to be a police officer at some level, said Miller. Its just something I have always wanted to do. I am really looking forward to it.
But, for now at least, Millers cop duties will be put on hold while he attempts to help next years Saxons make the big dance.
We have a really good chance to get to the NCAAs next year, said Miller, the son of Don Sr., and Joanne. We have our entire offense back and we lost only three players on defense, so we should be very good. Next year could be our year.