Athlete of the year: Christian Miller finding his own path

Spring Valley star excels after evaluating the game

Special to The StateJune 21, 2014 

FILE PHOTO: Spring Valley senior linebacker Christian Miller runs drills early Friday morning on the first day of practice for the Vikings' 2013 season.

C MICHAEL BERGEN — mbergen@thestate.com Buy Photo

  • FIVE OTHER GREAT BOYS

    Madison Stokes

    A.C. Flora shortstop was named the 3A Player of the Year and led the Falcons to a third consecutive 3A state championship. He will play at USC next season.

    Michael Knox

    The two-sport standout for C.A. Johnson was the quarterback for the football team and the point guard for the basketball Hornets, the Class A state champions.

    Will Hunter

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    Jaylen Bacon

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    Rion Davis

    The two-sport standout is a junior and will be a highly recruited defensive back next season. He also led the Falcons to the 3A state championship in basketball.

Christian Miller wasn’t always sure he wanted to be a football player. Being the son of a former NFL player, he was around the game from the time he could walk. He started playing youth football before he was the minimum age to play, but that didn’t stop him from taking breaks – and seasons off – because he wasn’t sure football was what he wanted to do.

An injury before his freshman year in high school forced him to miss the entire year and changed his outlook. The Spring Valley standout returned the following season with a vengeance, and Miller turned into one of the best high school players in the country. That has helped the recently turned 18-year old earn The State’s Male High School Athlete of the Year honors.

“It’s really unexpected,” Miller said. “It feels really good to be named the athlete of the year in my state. There are a bunch of great athletes in the Midlands that are very deserving of this honor, so it makes me feel very special to be chosen out of everyone.”

The accolades have been numerous for Miller, who already is enrolled at Alabama. He was a Parade All-American, named a second team All-USA member by USA Today and a five-star prospect coming out of high school. He was selected to the Under Armour All-American game as the No. 1 rated prospect in South Carolina. ESPN rated him as the No. 1 outside linebacker in this year’s class and the 48th ranked prospect overall.

But all of that almost never happened.

“I almost didn’t play in high school because I wasn’t 100 percent into it,” Miller said. “I’m a person that I like to do 100 percent on everything I do. I went ahead and played anyway because I felt like I would regret it. I ended up really liking it.”

The uncertainty for Miller came after an elbow injury kept him out his entire freshman season. He never played B team or junior varsity football, something Miller now regrets. But entering his sophomore season, he began to take things more seriously. He flourished and earned a starting position on the Spring Valley varsity team.

“I really think that injury gave me that motivation to succeed,” Miller said. “After that, I started working hard, and I wanted to experience at least one season of high school football. I started to realize I was doing pretty good for someone my age and I felt like if I kept working hard, I could really do something with football.”

By his junior season, he began garnering plenty of attention, and his senior season was off the charts. In his final two years with the Vikings, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Miller registered 314 tackles and 38 sacks (a school record 24 in 2013).

Long-time college coach Miles Aldridge was Miller’s coach. He believes Miller is scratching the surface.

“His best football is ahead of him,” Aldridge said. “He’s got a long body and will develop. He needs a little more time to fill out but he has the potential to be an outstanding player.”

If Miller is going to continue to grow as a football player, it will come under the watchful eye of Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide staff.

Miller moved onto campus a few weeks ago, and the adjustment to college life has been seamless. He arrived on campus a week later than most freshmen, but he’s trying to learn as much as possible. He said even though he has more freedom now, he’s too busy with class, meetings and workouts.

Alabama has a wealth of talent returning and the No. 1 rated signing class in the country, so Miller isn’t sure how much playing time he will see in his first year, but he’s preparing as if he were a starter.

“I had to come in and jump in with what I missed. After about the second day, I felt like I was getting the hang of things,” Miller said. “The biggest transition is learning and understanding a college playbook and system. Ours is difficult with different calls and stuff. In high school, you might have a handful of calls or checks, but here we have something for everything. It takes time. And I’m studying, watching film, and I know it will come.”

Miller’s dad, Corey, was a standout at South Carolina before embarking on an NFL career. Miller grew up not far from Williams-Brice Stadium, and he’s seen the passion of Gamecock fans. But that hasn’t prepared him for what he has experienced since arriving on campus. He said fans near Tuscaloosa are rabid and want to know every single thing about the players. He’s OK with that and hopes college will be something he looks back on with fond memories.

“You have to love it and I’m starting to develop an even stronger passion for it now. People in this town live for football and you have to love it,” Miller said. “I wouldn’t change anything I’ve done up until this point. I’m thankful for the coaches and teammates I had at Spring Valley for helping me get to this stage and I can’t wait to see what the next four or five years will hold for me.”

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