College Football: AHEAD OF THE CURVE
By Brandon Hurley
Now, the real work begins.
The leap won’t be an easy one. Though, a head start certainly doesn’t hurt. And in the world of Big 12 football, any type of leg up is a must. Which leads us into the magnificent window of opportunity ahead for Greene County’s highest-rated football recruit.
Tyler Miller understands how rigorous the transition into high-level Division I football will be. Gone are the days as the most intimidating athlete on the gridiron. He’ll be firmly entrenched in a heated battle for playing time from the moment he steps foot on the Iowa State campus. As a whole, the undeniable rise in talent level will be the most glaring difference once Miller dons the Cyclone and gold. But, he also possesses the not-so-secret ingredients of immense size and wide-ranging mobility. That alone should bode well for Miller’s future collegiate plans.
Which is why the now former Ram has decided to graduate high school early and enroll at Iowa State University next week. His journey into the collegiate realm begins with spring practices in the coming months.
The Cyclone coaching staff is clearly high on the state of Iowa’s second-rated high school prospect, per Rivals.com. And deservedly so. An offensive lineman with his height and natural movement is a rarity, even at the premiere Division I level.
But, good luck getting any of that bravado out of Miller himself. He’s more focused on building a strong bond with his teammates and graduating with a degree in agriculture. One must go straight to the source, or sources, in this case, when discussing Miller’s potential in Ames.
Of course, the departing senior’s high school coach, Caden Duncan is high on the county’s first full-ride Power 5 scholarship football player. And rightfully so. Rivals has Miller ranked as the 50th-best tackle prospect in the entire nation, dubbing him a three-star recruit. Miller officially signed his letter of intent with Iowa State University on Dec. 18. It was a watershed moment for the Greene County football program and the entire county as a whole. Iowa State inked an athlete with tremendous potential.
“There aren’t a lot of guys who are 6’9” and 300 pounds with his athletic gifts,” Duncan said. “I think he has an amazing opportunity in front of him. It’s going to help him a lot getting there early. It wouldn’t shock me at all a year from now and we are hearing about him being in the two-deep rotation at some point.
He’s looking forward to it and I know we are really excited for him to get there.”
All that delectable praise isn’t to say Miller expects a starting spot, if at all. Shortcuts aren’t how great athletes are made. Patience and a dedicated work ethic could produce results rarely seen in these parts. Put in the necessary time and the accolades could pile up.
Miller wasted little time preparing for the next step. He took the week off following Greene County’s quarterfinal loss last fall to Algona, but was right back at it. There’s little time for rest when he’s attempting to make an impact on a Division I roster. Because he’s setting up shop in Ames this month, Miller will be able to partake in Iowa State’s spring practices a full four months before the other true freshman arrive on campus.
“My main focus is to get (to Ames) and start lifting and training as quickly as possible,” Miller said. “I think it’ll help me develop more because I’ve got a long way to go before I’m at where I need to be.”
Obviously, I need to put on some weight.”
Last year, Iowa State began spring practices on March 12, which for the first time in several years, did not conclude with a spring game. Miller will gain the most from ISU’s weight lifting and nutrition programs. He’s shown the ability to put on weight and muscle, even at the high school level. But once he hits the Cyclone weight room, it’ll make a world of a difference, Duncan said.
“The biggest thing is he’s going into a college strength and conditioning environment right away,” the coach said. “He’s going to be able to start learning their schemes right away.”
Iowa State signed four offensive tackles in their 2020 recruiting class, though Miller is by far the tallest and heaviest prospect. Ankeny’s Brady Petersen is 6-5, 280 pounds while Kansas native Hayden Pauls stands 6-5, 280 pounds. He’ll be joining Miller in early enrollment while Sam Rengert, a tackle from Milford Center, Ohio, comes in at 6-7, 300 pounds. Pauls is the only one of the four ranked higher nationally by 24/7 Sports, as he’s rated the 60th best tackle prospect while Miller is 78th. Granted, none of these rankings mean anything once the young athletes arrive on campus, but it is worth noting who Miller will be competing with.
This incoming class will have plenty of opportunity ahead of them. Iowa State’s 2019 starting left tackle was Julian Good-Jones, a departing senior who was a three-year starter while the right tackle position is fairly veteran as well. Bryce Meeker (6-8, 300 pounds) was a three year starter as well, and he’ll be gone next fall. Sean Foster, his backup, will enter his senior year as the clear favorite at 6-8, 310 pounds. But, Good-Jones’ backup was a 6-5, 300 pound freshman in Joey Ramos. There’s some definite room for guys to come in and steal spots in the coming years. Which makes Miller’s early enrollment that much smarter in the long haul.
It’s never too early to begin the transition into the upper-echelon of college athletics, Duncan said. It’s certainly a step up in competition, and Miller will have to come in mentally and physically prepared.
“He’s going to see an immediate difference just from playing a bunch of young boys to men. The difference between some 17 year olds and 21 year olds, it’s huge. I only played Division II, so Division I is going to be leaps and bounds above that. It’s just a maturity thing,” Duncan said. “Consistency is something that’s going to be really important in college. In high school, Tyler was bigger and stronger than most guys, so he could get away with some things here and there because he was just so dominant.
The coach continued, “At Iowa State, at the Division I level. you have to be consistent all the time. Be on your P’s and Q’s. Know your assignments and things like that. I’m sure Tyler will do well with that, but that’ll be an adjustment.”
Miller’s not necessarily focused on the on-field stuff as he is on building relationships. The growth will come with time, he said.
“(I’m) definitely (looking forward to) the brotherhood that I’ll develop (at Iowa State). I’ve been close with the other guys in the 2020 recruiting class, like Hayden Pauls and those guys,” Miller said. “I think developing a new friendship like I did here (at Greene County). I (know) I’ll never have a friendship like I did here, but at Iowa State, I’m hoping to develop something close to it. (I’m) looking forward to making friends and winning a Big 12 championship.”
Miller realizes a cerebral understanding of ISU head coach Matt Campbell’s process will be his greatest attribute as his college career begins to take shape. The jump from 2A football in Iowa to the Big 12 will be no easy task. Progression and success don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand.
“(There will be) long practices, more grueling practices. Here in Iowa, at a 2A school, there’s not as much competition as I’d like,” Miller said. “I’ll get beat on for a couple of years and then hopefully my time comes.”
Above all else, beyond the road trips to Austin, Texas and the yearly battles for the Cy-Hawk trophy as well as Big 12 championship aspirations, Miller plans to invest in his education. He hopes to kick-start a long and fruitful career in the ag industry once his playing days are through. Iowa State is well-known for its success in the agricultural field.
“The biggest thing for me is to graduate with a degree,” Miller said. “That’s the one thing I’ve always looked forward to. Getting a degree in agriculture. Staying the course and doing what I need to do then hoping to get a good job after college.”
Iowa State opens the 2020 football schedule Sept. 5 at home against South Dakota. They’ll visit Iowa City the following week to take on the Iowa Hawkeyes.
POSITIVE REACTIONS IN AMES
What did the Iowa State coaching staff have to say about Miller’s commitment back on Dec. 18? They certainly were fired up, to say the least. And if we do a little interpreting, it sounds like the coaches are thrilled with the two-time all state selection’s chances of fighting for a job right off the bat. They are enamored with Miller’s potential.
“One of the very best players in the state of Iowa, Tyler Miller will be joining our football program in January, and we are thrilled to welcome him,” ISU head coach Matt Campbell said during a early signing day celebration Dec. 18 in Ames. “He and his family believed in our program for a long time, and he will fit our culture perfectly. He has tremendous size and athleticism, but more importantly, his toughness and work ethic will help us continue to develop the offensive line position.”
Cyclone offensive line coach Jeff Myers took things a bit further as well, citing the program’s ability to recruit some top talent.
“This state breeds offensive lineman and we are at a point now where we are competing to get the top guys,” Myers said Dec. 18. “We are excited to add (these) guys.”
Myers and the entire offensive coaching staff is impressed most with Miller’s size and athleticism. They’re thrilled he’s committed to enrolling early as well, moving onto campus in January.
“Tyler is as big as they come,” Myers said. “He’s done a really good job at developing over his time in high school. He was a basketball guy, skinny, but he’s done a really good job in the weight room and with (his) flexibility and mobility.”
Myers even hinted at Miller having a chance at putting himself into the mix for playing time next fall. Iowa State will need to replace four from their offensive line group in 2020. What sets Miller apart is that aforementioned size – he’s already three inches taller than any of ISU’s current offensive line starters.
“The thing I like about Tyler is he has an edge to him,” Myers said. “He has that toughness factor we are looking for. I think it’ll be huge for him coming mid-year and to hit the ground running. With us losing four seniors, there’s going to be a lot of competition. It’ll be good to add him in.”