COLUMBUS: Braxton Miller has endured bumps and bruises on the field, but to date, the Ohio State quarterback has been able to avoid potholes off the field.
Not all of his contemporaries — or teammates — can say the same thing. For evidence, there is Johnny Manziel, the Texas A&M quarterback who won the 2012 Heisman Trophy and has since endured several rides in the media churn as he insists on continuing his flamboyant lifestyle.
Closer to home, Miller’s teammates Carlos Hyde and Bradley Roby are dealing with legal issues from last weekend that have landed them in hot water with coach Urban Meyer less than two weeks before the start of OSU’s preseason camp.
Miller is no recluse, but he has managed to steer clear of controversy as he heads into a junior season filled with great expectations, especially considering he set a school record with 3,310 yards of total offense in the Buckeyes’ 12-0 season of 2012.
“I stay low-key, I’m just a calm person,” Miller said. “I like to stay out of trouble. I don’t like my name being in the news for negative things and people looking at me the wrong way.”
That lesson, he said, came from his parents, Kelly and Kevin.
“I want to be a good person. That’s just how I was brought up,” he said. “When success comes along, you’ve got to be humble about things. You want others to speak about you; you don’t want to have to speak for yourself.”
It’s likely that much will be said about Miller between now and Aug. 31, when Ohio State begins the 2013 season. The Buckeyes are favored to win the Big Ten, now that they are off a one-year postseason ban, and are expected to contend for the Bowl Championship Series title game. And Miller is among the early contenders for this year’s Heisman Trophy.
“That’s when your name is supposed to be talked about, during the season,” Miller said. “You don’t want to be bothered with the mess in the offseason of getting in trouble and things like that, getting your name in the news and people talking about you the wrong way.”
Toward that end, he has worked on his game since OSU last played Nov. 24 against Michigan. Miller traveled to California in December for tutoring sessions with quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr., worked with Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman during OSU’s spring practices and participated in seven-on-seven workouts with teammates.
“I would say the biggest improvement is I am more focused, and have gotten much better on my fundamentals,” Miller said. “When things would break down sometimes last year, I didn’t rely on my fundamentals — I got jittery. Sometimes the ball would flare on me, or my grip was wrong, different things.”
Room to improve
Even though he rushed for 1,271 yards last year, Miller surprisingly was considered to be a mediocre scrambler by his coaches. Essentially, they thought he just scratched the surface of his potential.
“Last year’s playbook was the biggest I’ve ever seen in my life,” Miller said. “And now that I’ve got the verbiage down, I’ve watched a lot of film and already had one year running this offense, the game has just slowed down for me now. It’s unbelievable how I can read a defense now, and know where I’m going at the snap of a finger.
“It excites me. I feel like the sky’s the limit. When you look at the 3,000 yards from last year, and I barely scrambled at all, wow, that’s just opened my eyes. I can do much more.”
That does not mean, however, that he is obsessed with football all day every day.
“I live my life, but when I walk in the [Woody Hayes Athletic Center], it’s time to focus and make my game better and my teammates better,” Miller said.
Becoming even more of a leader — a vocal one at that — was on his must-improve list issued by Herman and Meyer. “That comes along with being the quarterback,” Miller said.
He also enjoys kicking back with friends. “I like to hang with my fellas. We have a good time,” he said.
But he is recognized immediately almost everywhere he goes, and he said he tries to act accordingly.
“Sometimes it gets overwhelming,” Miller said. “Like I might be out shopping for something for my mom, and all these people come up and say, ‘Can I get your picture?’ And I’m thinking, ‘Dang, I’m trying to go shopping for my mom.’
“But it’s cool that people look up to me. It doesn’t last long.”
That, he added, was a lesson he learned from OSU great Archie Griffin, college football’s only two-time Heisman winner, whom a young Miller met at a basketball tournament.
“I remember how humble and nice he was to people wanting his autograph and things,” Miller said. “I remember how I felt when he was nice to me, and that’s how I treat the little kids when I meet them, so maybe they will remember me when they grow up.”
To get away from it all in the offseason, Miller said he likes to go fishing at least twice a month. Catfish is the prize — big ones — on a private lake near Xenia, where he and family and friends have retreated often for 10 years or so.
“That releases some of the stress,” Miller said. “We go out there and grill out, listen to music, relax. … The first time I went, my mom took me a long time ago. I thought it might be nasty [to catch] fish, but I liked it.”
There is plenty to like about the pursuit and then the release of a large, wily swimmer, Miller said.
“You get that tug on your line. It’s great,” he said. “The minimum size you catch is 22 pounds. I’ve even caught a catfish using a hot dog. I put it on the hook, 20 minutes later I’m reeling him in. A catfish will eat anything. ... I wear a big ol’ hat, and we’ve got a cover for shade. It’s just fun and relaxing.”
Such activities also give him a chance to daydream a little. These days, those dreams are pretty big.
“I’ve been to a lot of awards ceremonies, and those make me happy, but I want to be somewhere I’ve never been before, like to the Heisman [show], or to the national championship,” Miller said. “That’s something that would make me feel like I’m special.
“I want to know how that feels, just to hold up that trophy, with all my football brothers around me. To see everybody smiling, everybody happy, I think about that all the time.”
Miller finished fifth in the Heisman race last year, though he was not invited to the ceremony in New York. To make it happen this year, and to make a run at a national title, he said he knows he and his team “have to play above the line. We need to play above other teams.”
He added, “I want to experience something I never have before, that feeling of ‘Woooo.’ Like LeBron [James], when he won the NBA title for the first time and the way he was hugging that trophy. He didn’t want to let that thing go. Those are the dreams.”