Christian Miller didn’t want to show.
Still wearing his padded football pants from Spring Valley’s practice, Christian responds to text messages on his phone as he takes a seat opposite a reporter. This interview with The State is the last thing he wants to be doing. Headlines are what Christian’s been wanting to get away from.
“I’m probably different from almost any teenager you’ll find,” Christian says. “I don’t like the attention. I don’t like being on homepages. I don’t like being in the newspaper.”
His father, Corey Miller, a former USC standout and NFL linebacker, makes his current living in the spotlight. Until his show was cancelled last week, Corey was a popular, and often controversial, sports radio personality on 560 The Team, and he persuaded Christian to come to the McAllister’s Deli near Spring Valley High for the interview. “It’s a sign you’re doing something good when people are talking about you,” Corey says.
Sitting next to each other, they look like different athletes even though they share the position of outside linebacker. Christian has a lean, muscular physique, slimmer than the shorter, bulkier Corey.
The bond with his father is evident as Christian takes pride in playing the same position his dad did, but he longs to be known as his own man. He emphasizes that it was ultimately his decision to do the interview, and it was ultimately his decision to commit to Alabama earlier this summer. It was his decision to show little interest in playing for the Gamecocks, his parents’ alma mater 15 minutes from his home.
But as his decisions surrounding his recruitment garner constant scrutiny on message boards and forums, Christian is seldom mentioned without Corey. In Columbia, Christian is Corey Miller’s son, but as he finishes his high school playing career, the next step at Alabama presents Christian with the opportunity to make his name away from the rumors and hype that’s been covering him for the past year. It’s a different name from his father.
“Corey’s just kind of that guy, who’s like, ‘Don’t forget I’m over here,’ ” Christian’s mom, Lisa Miller Ford, says. “Christian just likes to go and do what he’s got to do.”
Christian sought out the attention at first. Sidelined with an elbow injury his freshman season, Christian was able to ascend into a starting role during his sophomore year at Spring Valley. He made tapes and highlight videos to send to college coaches, not wanting to rely on his genes to get scholarship offers.
The first day NCAA rules permitted college coaches to send Christian letters, he says he received about 60. Recruiting websites ranked him a four-star, and offers began to trickle in.
But as he became a regular name talked about on the recruiting circuit, Christian began to resent the attention. He thought he was being looked at like a celebrity when he walked the halls of school. Whenever he was in the media, a teammate would point it out to him, and he just wanted to go back to being a normal high schooler, so he started deflecting some of the attention to his teammates.
The experience reminded him of when he was a young boy trying to go out to dinner with his dad, but people kept interrupting to ask Corey for an autograph. He hated it then and he hates it now that he’s the star.
“I think he understands that he’s a kid here in Columbia that’s a son of ex-college and pro-football player, and he’s leaving the state to play football, so everybody’s going to be watching him and everybody will have an opinion about him, some good and some bad,” Spring Valley coach Miles Aldridge says. “He knows that, and he wants to try to make as many good ones as he can.”
Christian had more than 150 tackles in his junior season and 14 sacks.
As Christian became less interested in playing for South Carolina, the opinions turned bad and criticisms about Christian’s physique and ability swirled around message boards. Corey defended Christian on his radio show, being critical of how USC maintains relationships with former players and the staff’s recruitment of Christian. It brought even more attention to his son.
“I got offended by some of the things people were saying because there was disappointment, I’m sure, that he wasn’t going to be a Gamecock,” Corey says. “People started to say he couldn’t do this or play, and when you know the game as well as I do having been a part of it for 30 years, there was some nonsense being said. I was also critical when you have a talent like he is and there’s not certain invitations like Junior Day or whatever, especially when you have a relationship with the dad. I thought that was a disrespectful situation. But those fences have been mended.”
Christian takes a more middle-ground approach. He says the invite or lack thereof with South Carolina’s Junior Day could have been a misunderstanding. It’s possible USC did invite him, but the invitation was in the heap of letters he was receiving every day and not opening, he says. Either way, Christian says he was losing interest in the Gamecocks at that point because of conversations he’d been having with the coaching staff about where he fit in their 4-2-5 defensive scheme. As an athletic outside linebacker, he’s better suited for a 3-4 defense. But the experience left a lasting impression.
“That definitely did start giving me a bad vibe,” Christian says. “After that, I started getting a lot of criticism from a lot of Gamecock fans for nothing. I did absolutely nothing — just didn’t go to a Junior Day. Then all of a sudden, I started hearing all of these negative comments that I’m too skinny or I can’t do this or that, which is kind of messed up.
“It definitely started giving me more negativity about the university when I have my own fans in this state that I thought supported me saying all of this negative stuff, especially negative comments about my dad. I’m not going to go to a school where there’s people who are against my dad. He’s got my back, and I’ve got his.”
Christian initially committed to Florida, but when it dawned on him that he might have rushed into that decision, he opened his commitment back up. Alabama was always high on his list, and when he saw how seriously they were recruiting him, he felt at peace changing his mind and committing there.
Christian admires the terse approach Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban takes with the media. He hopes to be like anonymous offensive linemen who stay out of the spotlight but are crucial to the team’s success. Corey wants Christian to be prepared for the increased attention he’ll get with the Alabama fan base. At least he’ll be out of Corey’s shadow.
“It’s a lot of pressure,” Corey says. “That’s one thing I always said: Make your own path. You go to a school where your dad played, had great success and his picture is in the hallways, you’re going to always live in that, and I think that becomes difficult with all of the expectations people are going to put on you.”
The shadow remains for Christian’s senior year. He hoped his commitment would quell the attention surrounding him, but everyone still wants to know the answer to one question. Why not South Carolina? There’s several answers to that question, but they all lead back to Christian making the decision to go to the place that best fits him and allows him to be himself.
“I get asked that probably every day,” Christian says. “It’s just not going to happen.”