To know how Justin Miller ticks today, you first have to learn about how his pendulum first began to swing. It happened six years ago, as Miller stood on the sidelines as a sixth-grade ball boy at Colorado Springs Christian School while his dad, Chadd, was on the coaching staff.
He watched the demeanor of one CSCS running back and became enamored with how he played, his respect of the game and the inner fire he witnessed by the look in his eyes.
To Miller, a senior at The Classical Academy, Nathan Walker fully embodied the essence of a complete football player. So much so that he tirelessly worked to play and act as he did.
“I loved football before, but when I saw how he (Nathan) conducted himself on and off the field, I saw what it would take,” Miller said. “From then on, starting in the seventh grade, I was doing pushups and situps in the house, doing things before my dad would let me in the weight room. I was always self-motivated. But seeing people like Nathan and seeing his success, that’s what motivates me.”
Miller, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound linebacker, conveyed his motivation and passion for the game through his Titans team during the 2012 season. On the heels of a discouraging 2-8 campaign in 2011, Miller spearheaded a defensive effort that allowed 150 fewer points (159 total in 11 games) that transformed the Titans into a dominating defensive unit, a major reason behind a 9-2 season and their first berth in the 3A playoffs.
“You hear guys talking about the ‘it’ factor, and Justin has that,” Titans coach David Bervig said. “I don’t know how to quantify that, but when he steps on the field or walks in the locker room, there’s an intensity about him, and everybody else rises to that. He makes you want to compete.”
Statistically, Miller impressed the likes of New Mexico and Wyoming with a season that included 125 total tackles, a little more than 11 per game. Aside from the individual accomplishments, Miller helped galvanize an unproven unit into one that believed it could physically dominate.
“When winning is an expectation, it happens,” Miller said. “We talked in the offseason and knew we could realistically go 10-0. It was our personal goal. We trained like a 10-0 team and practiced like a 10-0 team. We went into every game expecting to win and be physical. That’s the main reason why we turned it around.”
In addition to Walker, who ultimately parlayed his stellar days at CSCS into a three-year varsity career at Air Force, Miller also credited his dad, a longtime assistant and defensive coordinator at TCA, for further igniting his football inferno.
“Nathan speaks life into me and is a great young man, and I try to let him know how important he is to me” Miller said. “My dad instilled in me at a young age that I needed to be a leader who is vocal and leads by example. This season was great, but it’s not possible if not for the guys around me. Being a leader was easier when the people around you believe in what we can do.”
Even though his playing days as a Titan are over, Miller believes he did his part to ensure TCA enjoys a rich heritage as a football power. And maybe along the way, perhaps a young ball boy or aspiring athlete grew impressed with his style of play, work ethic and passion, setting another dream into motion.