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Nov. 24, 2003

By: Cathy Bongiovi Stewart

During the 2000 football season, the senior quarterback at Honaker High School decided he wanted to play college football at the University of Virginia. Three years later, he’s a highly accomplished Cavalier, and he has been an integral part of UVa’s passing game. The only difference now is he’s on the receiving end of the football.

All-American Heath Miller, a native of Swords Creek, Virginia, has played several different positions throughout his career, but switched from quarterback to tight end as a true freshman as per UVa head coach Al Groh’s recommendation. “I switched to tight end after fall camp my first year here,” Miller said. “I enjoy playing tight end, because you get to participate in the physical part of the game as well as receive the ball.”

This fall, Virginia has relied heavily upon its passing game, and Miller has had another outstanding season. After setting the ACC season record for tight ends with nine touchdowns and leading the nation’s tight ends last year, he earned Freshman All-American and All-ACC honors. This season the 6-5, 254-lb. sophomore leads all ACC receivers in catches and yards. After nine contests, Miller’s has caught 46 passes for 457 yards, an average of 50.8 yards per game.

In the win over Wake Forest, Miller had seven catches for a career-high 94 yards and a touchdown. All seven of his receptions went for either a first down or a touchdown. His huge 15-yard grab in the fourth quarter set up Connor Hughes’ game-winning field goal. For his efforts, Miller earned his first ACC Player of the Week honor.

“Heath is an exceptional player. He brings a lot to the table for our team,” said senior quarterback Matt Schaub. “He’s a very reliable guy. He’s smart. He knows his responsibilities. He’s able to beat man-to-man (defense) in his routes, and even in zones, he has a good feel for the soft spots. I’m able to find him, and he can catch the ball, get up field and make a lot of yards for us.”

A two-year starter, Miller already holds the ACC career record for touchdown receptions by a tight end with 13. The sophomore currently ranks second among the nation’s tight ends in catches and yards.

“They really don’t mean a lot to me right now,” Miller said of his records. “My focus is the team and winning every game we play.”

Miller’s commitment to UVa came early. While looking at colleges, he narrowed down his choice to Virginia and in-state rival Virginia Tech. “I just felt more comfortable here,” Miller said, “and I knew this was the place I wanted to go.”

Miller’s hard work and dedication have not gone unnoticed. “It speaks of Heath Miller in that he’s obviously a guy with a real feel for the passing game and a very productive player, and yet he’s really interested in blocking,” Groh said. “A lot of guys who play (tight end) profess to have an interest in (blocking), but the development of their skills speaks otherwise. He’s doing a very good job with those plays, but that’s how he is about everything.”

Adding to the tight ends’ punch are junior Patrick Estes and senior Kase Luzar. At 6-7, 262-lbs., Estes brings a lot of size and speed to the tight end spot. A center for the state champion Benedictine High School basketball team, Estes also ran on the BHS 4×100 relay team that won the state championship. While playing five positions for the football team, the Richmond, Virginia, native added kicking to his list of duties. “I was a punter and kicker, because we didn’t really have either one,” Estes recalled. “I could kick extra points pretty easily. I practiced kicking a few times. I used to play soccer, so I became our kicker.”

But Estes doesn’t plan on adding kicking to his collegiate r?sum?. “In high school, my favorite spot was tight end,” he said. “It was fun to be able to punt and kick. It’s fun to do more than one thing.”

Estes has utilized his versatility at Virginia, the school he grew up admiring. “My dad went to UVa, so I grew up a Cavalier fan,” Estes said. “Virginia was always my first choice. Once I started looking at other schools, I knew this was where I wanted to go.”

Out with an injury since the Florida State game, Estes foresees returning to the line-up shortly. The archeology major hopes to play professional football once his time on the Grounds is over. “If I could, I’d like to play in the NFL,” Estes said. “That’s my first goal. Otherwise, I want to be a general contractor and build houses.”

Since Estes’ injury, fullback Kase Luzar has been adding tight end duties to his list of skills. At 6-2, 236-lbs., he’s the smallest at the position, but is known for his exceptional blocking skills. The Williamsburg, Virginia, native has played in every game. At tight end, he’s recorded 12 receptions for 74 yards.

“All of our tight ends have good size and strength and are good blockers,” Schaub analyzed. “In the passing game, they really present mismatches for the other team. Whether (opponents) want to put a linebacker or a safety on them, there are mismatches that are in our favor. The guys are experienced at running their routes and are able to catch the ball in traffic and make plays for us.”

Waiting in the wings at tight end is true freshman Jonathan Stupar. The 6-5, 246-lb. standout from State College, Pennsylvania, was one of the country’s top prospects last season. The prep All-American has yet to step on the field in a UVa uniform, but he is gaining great experience working with Miller, Estes and Luzar. “He’s not just a tight end,” Groh said of Stupar. “He has the ability to catch the ball and come up with plays in the same fashion as Heath Miller.”

While there’s plenty of football yet to play in their careers, UVa’s veteran tight ends have a soft spot for certain games played already. “My favorite game is probably the bowl game from last year,” Miller said of Virginia’s 48-22 win over West Virginia in the 2002 Continental Tire Bowl in Charlotte, North Carolina. “It was a great atmosphere, and obviously we played extremely well.”

“Last year against South Carolina at home,” Estes said of UVa’s 34-21 upset of the No. 22 Gamecocks that started a six-game winning streak. “Because it was a close game, playing a big team. I scored a touchdown that Heath threw to me, and we won.”

With one critical game left on Virginia’s schedule this season, post-season hopes will rely upon the Cavaliers’ tough play down the stretch. Luckily, UVa is heavily armed with tight ends who can make the big catches.

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