The Big Money
Dec. 8, 2003
By Sean Lauer (Fourth year student)
CHARLOTTESVILLE – He had 66 receptions, 5 touchdowns, and 751 yards receiving at the TE position this season, ranking him respectively 40th, 91st, and 77th among all collegiate receivers nationally. In the conference, he was 5th, t-7th, and 7th, respectively. He is recognized as one of the top TE’s in the country and was a semifinalist for the 2003 John Mackey Award given to the best TE in the country…as a sophomore! No, he’s not Kellen Winslow II; he is Heath Miller, the ACC all-time leader in TE receiving yards in one season with 751.
Getting his name on the front page of national sports sections is not Miller’s concern.
“I don’t mind that other tight ends get more recognition than me,” concedes Miller. “I just want to concentrate on the team. My main concern and goal is winning every game that we play.”
In the final Cavalier home game of the season on November 29 against Virginia Tech, Miller had the best game of his career. He caught 13 passes for 145 yards in the 35-21 Virginia victory. His previous career high in yards was just the week before against Georgia Tech with 110 and his previous high in catches was earlier this season with 9 against Florida State.
“I feel very good about the way we played Saturday (against Virginia Tech), ” says Miller. “I felt like Virginia Tech was a very good team.”
Head Coach Al Groh had nothing but praise for his TE after the game.
“This was a fantastic performance by Heath Miller today. Any statement I would make would be secondary to the players’ nickname for him. You can probably understand why the players call him Big Money.”
Even in defeat, Virginia Tech Head Coach Frank Beamer could not ignore Miller’s impact.
“He’s a big target. You don’t want to get into man situations with him too often. He positions his body well and he catches everything that comes near him.”
Miller is not one to stand in the limelight after a victory, and this was the case again at the completion of the regular season.
“I think we did a good job of maintaining a positive attitude and coming to work every day,” he explains. “The last two weeks we did a better job of correcting our mistakes and came away with two victories.”
Anyone knows that these are not high school football teams against which Miller is excelling. These are the top defensive teams in college football. A na?ve onlooker may think that Miller has been having this type of receiving game his whole career…would you believe this is only his second season catching balls instead of throwing them?
During the 2000 high school football season, Miller led his Honaker High School team on the field as their quarterback. After his first fall camp as a Cavalier, Head Coach Al Groh asked Miller to become more involved in the passing game…as a TE. Being the constant team player, Miller accepted his new role on the team. Having success in the new and unfamiliar position of TE was never a question for Miller.
“Honestly, I didn’t give it that much thought,” explains Miller. “I just knew that I was going to play to the best of my abilities, whatever the position was.”
Miller even finds new pleasure in the change.
“I enjoy playing tight end because you get to participate in the physical part of the game as well as receive the ball,” he explains.
Blocking for the quarterback, running back, or other receivers is a crucial role for Miller as a TE.
“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.”
Head Coach Al Groh is not one to ignore Miller’s contributions either.
“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.”
As a sophomore, Miller’s receiving and blocking statistics are more associated with top wide receivers in the country, like Pittsburgh’s Larry Fitzgerald. Miller isn’t interested in comparisons.
“I think that Larry Fitzgerald is one of, if not the best receiver in the country. He also plays on one of the best teams in the country. My only objective is to win the game.”
In a fortuitous occurrence of events, Miller and Fitzgerald will get to put their skills on display against each other on December 27, 2003 in the Continental Tire Bowl as Virginia takes on Big East powerhouse Pittsburgh.
“I think it is going to be a lot of fun to compete against Fitzgerald and Pittsburgh in a great environment,” admits Miller.
Miller will also be competing against a finalist for the John Mackey Award in Kris Wilson, Pitt’s Senior TE. Although Wilson leads the nation in touchdowns by a TE with 8, his 33 receptions for 541 yards pale in comparison to Miller’s 66 for 751. Both TEs had their career best games against Virginia Tech this season, each surpassing the 100-yard mark.
In last year’s Tire Bowl against another Big East team West Virginia, Miller had three receptions for 54 yards and was the second leading receiver on the team in the 48-22 Cavalier victory. He will no doubt be looking to add to his bowl excellence against Pitt this time around, but more importantly, he will be doing everything in his power to guide the Cavaliers to another victory.