By Jack Williams
Experience, chemistry and toughness!
Those are the words that Coach George O’Leary uses to explain linebacker Matt Miller’s value to the Georgia Tech football team. Miller has heard the words often, ever since the days when he was sacking 90-pound quarterbacks on the sandlots.
“I grew up around football,” he says. “My dad played at Auburn, and we were a family that was big on football. We watched games together every Saturday when I was a kid. I played very early. That’s one reason why I became so enthusiastic about the game.”
O’Leary seconds the motion on the word “enthusiastic.”
“Matt loves playing the game, and that’s contagious,” the coach says. “That’s what we need more than anything else, that enthusiasm from the love of playing the game, which he has.”
A redshirt-junior from Alpharetta, Ga., Miller sat out last season after undergoing reconstructive surgery on his knee at the tail-end of the 1998 season. His return to the lineup is a major reason why Tech expects to have a much improved defense this fall.
During Tech’s 10-2 season in 1998, Miller played a key role in helping guide the Jackets to a share of the Atlantic Coast Conference championship. He finished fourth on the team in tackles with 65 and recorded 10 in the crucial come-from-behind win over Virginia.
He started the first 10 games that season before sustaining a torn anterior ligament in a Tuesday practice before the Georgia game. He underwent surgery that December.
“The knee has been sore after practices this fall,” he says, “but I feel like it is doing well. It has been hard getting back into the scheme of things, but I believe I’ve had a good fall practice.”
The coaches seem to agree.
Miller says his year out of football was a hard pill to swallow. “It was real tough,” he said. “But it makes coming back all that much better. It makes me appreciate the opportunities I have.”
Miller says Tech’s defense definitely will be better this season. “I know last year was tough,” he said, “but we have a ton of experience coming back. Experience is huge in football. Our defensive guys are excited being out there.
“I think our team will be good overall. Last year, it was Joe Hamilton’s team. Now, a lot of guys are going to play key roles. There is no one player, no Heisman Trophy candidate. We are going to work hard as a group and win as a team.”
Miller plans to be one of the team leaders. “I’m not into hooting and hollering,” he said. “My way is to lead by example, to work hard and set examples.”
Miller likes the challenge of opening the new season against a strong Virginia Tech team and its heralded quarterback, Michael Vick, on Aug. 27 in Blacksburg. “I’m excited,” he said. “We will find out early where we stand as a team. We’ll learn if we are improved on defense or if we need to make more progress.
“I’m excited, too, about going against Vick. He’s in a situation a lot like Joe Hamilton was last season. Vick did a lot of great things last season and I’m sure he will again this year, But it’s always fun to go against a guy with that much talent and see how you stack up.”
Miller was the nation’s seventh-ranked linebacker and one of the South’s most highly-recruited players when he signed with Tech out of the Marist School in 1997. It came down to a choice between Tech and Auburn, the school which both his parents (Robert and Linda Miller) had attended.
“The Sunday before signing date, we went to church as a family and prayed that I would make the right decision,” Matt said. “As we were leaving the church, the car in front of us had a Georgia Tech license. Then we saw a guy on the highway changing a tire. He was wearing a jacket with Georgia Tech on the back. Were those signs? I sure thought so.
“When I told Coach O’Leary that story, he said he was the guy changing the tire. We had a good laugh.
“It was tough choosing Tech over Auburn. I grew up at Auburn, saw five or six games a year there. But I wanted to come to Tech. On my visits here, I loved the Tech coaches and the players.”
Miller says the Georgia Tech experience has been quite rewarding. “It’s tough playing football and going to school here,” he said, “But these are years that will influence me the rest of my life. I know I will be prepared coming out of here.”
Majoring in management, Miller is proud that he has made the Dean’s list the last two semesters.
Now he has his sights set on some other good marks-on the football field. He wants to add to his resume with another big winning season, and he’s confident that will happen.