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Miller wants the ball at EKU

August 17, 2003|MIKE MARSEE

RICHMOND - Above all, Matt Miller wants the ball.

Coming off a breakout season as a freshman wide receiver, Miller figures to do have a chance to do even more this fall in Eastern Kentucky University's new offense.

But the Boyle County High School graduate knows he won't be alone. For one thing, his success last season will make him a priority for opposing defenses. And as Eastern adopts a more receiver-friendly offense in its first season under coach Danny Hope, Miller will have plenty of company at his position.

"We might have four or five receivers out at a time. Everyone's going to want the ball, but no one's going to be selfish," Miller said.

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Miller got the ball more than any other Colonel receiver last season. He had a team-high 37 catches for 640 yards and five touchdowns last season, averaging 53.3 yards per game.

"Being a freshman, that was spectacular," he said. "I set my goals, and I know there are no limits except what you set for yourself."

It didn't take long last season for Miller to win the confidence of his teammates.

"They started to see I wasn't afraid to be out there with the big boys, with juniors and seniors," he said. "Everybody got on my side. They had faith in me as a freshman just as good as if I were a junior or senior."

And even though he'll only be a sophomore this season, Miller is now starting to think like an upperclassman.

"I'm looking at things juniors and seniors are aiming for," he said. "Last year I just wanted to get out there and get some reps and hopefully get a couple of balls. Now this year I'm leading. Some of the young guys are looking at me as a leader."

Miller said he's shooting for all-Ohio Valley Conference honors - he was named the OVC freshman of the year by college sports site dopke.com - and he said he still hopes to see plenty of footballs coming this way.

"I still want to lead the pack and have the quarterbacks believe in me," he said.

Miller said he knows he won't be able to surprise opposing defenses as he did early in his freshman season, but he said Eastern's new offense will carry its own element of surprise.

"If it was like last year's offense, they could really hold me down," he said. "This year I'll be in the mix, and they can't just knock down one of us."

Hope is counting on that.

"You can't double him because of all the receivers we have," Hope said.

And Miller is becoming increasingly hard to handle in one-on-one situations. His 40-yard dash time dropped from 4.4 seconds last season to 4.33 this spring, and he has a 36-inch vertical leap.

Hope said when he took over as coach last winter, he made a point of not watching film from last season so he could make his own evaluations of returning players. And when he saw the 6-1, 211-pound Miller on the practice field, he was sold right away.

"He can run under 4.5 every time, and he's got good size, but he needs to work on his flexibility a little bit," Hope said.

"He told me that coming in he had heard good stuff about me, but until he actually saw me run as fast as I could, I don't think he really understood the potential I had for this offense," Miller said. "(And) I love the fact that we kept some of the coaches around here, and they already knew what I did last year and my potential."

And now that Miller understands the potential of Eastern's pass-friendly offense, he can't wait to be part of it.

"It's a chance for more than one receiver to step up and make plays and be a threat in the game," Miller said. "After talking to (Hope) and the other coaches, I thought it was a great opportunity for me and all the receivers. So many balls are going to be thrown, so we'll all get our chance to step up."

There remains the question of who's going to throw those balls. The competition continues between sophomore Chip Franklin, Miller's roommate, and transfers Adam Ellis and Matt Guice.

"I think we're stacked at quarterback," Miller said. "All of them are competing and helping each other, and whoever gets the starting job will benefit from that competition," Miller said.

No matter who is at quarterback, Miller said, the receivers will be ready.

"Last year we might have two receivers out there. This year a lot of guys are going to be fresh and ready to go," he said.

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