By David Willis
---- — Brian Miller remembers every detail of the moment 11 months and three weeks ago.
After all, when you make your first catch in big-time Division 1 college football — against one of the most iconic teams in sports history — it’s not something you just forget.
“I remember the route exactly,” said the former Andover High star. “Everyone remembers their first catch. It was third down and I had a dig (route) across the middle of the field. I saw the ball coming my way and I was just praying that I held onto it. It was a crazy feeling.”
A year after his breakout performance against the University of Miami, Miller is looking to establish himself as a go-to player at receiver for Boston College, which kicks off its season at home against Villanova next Saturday.
“We’ve been working to get the fundamentals down and everything has been going good so far,” Miller said. “I feel great. I can’t wait to play a game.”
Andover football fans likely remember that Miller’s college football career began under unfortunate circumstances after being one of the top-recruited tight ends in the country.
As a senior with the Golden Warriors in 2010, Miller caught a pass during their eight-overtime epic against Lowell, only to be tackled low. He suffered a torn ACL and, as a result, not only was his high school career over, but he would also have to miss the entire 2011 season, due to be his freshman year at BC.
“The injury itself was very rough,” Miller said. “It’s never fun to have to go through something like that. But in the end it was kind of a blessing in disguise because I got to take a red-shirt year. That year gave me time to understand what college football is all about and taught me what I needed to do to get healthy and be ready.”
After 22 months away from the sport, Miller made his return to the gridiron last Sept. 1, when he took the field for the Eagles in their match-up with Miami.
“It was such an amazing feeling to be out there in the Miami game,” Miller said. “It had been so long since I had played any sport at all, so being in a competitive environment again is something I can’t even describe.”
Not only did Miller play, he stood out in his first college outing. He caught three passes for 38 yards, including a key first down, and drew a pass interference call in the end zone.
“He made a few big plays in the first half of that game,” Boston College quarterback Chase Rettig said. “Then, in the second half, he made a big play on third or fourth and 10. He has to keep doing stuff like that and he can become a very trusted receiver for us.”
Injuries, however, proved to once again be a thorn in Miller’s side last season.
“Nothing major, but it was a lot of nagging injuries,” said Miller, who after playing 49 plays against Miami played just 74 plays and caught one more pass the rest of the season. “I just kept working through it and trying to contribute.”
Once the season came to an end — a challenging run for the Eagles that saw them finish just 2-10 after which coach Frank Spaziani was fired — Miller and the rest of his squad began to prepare for the 2013 season under the tutelage of new head coach Steve Addazio.
The offseason included another surgery. But this one may have been less bitter than sweet.
“It was to take the hard wire out,” said Miller, a marketing major with a 3.1 GPA, which earned him the Athletic Director’s Award for Academic Achievement.
“It’s been a lot of work, but we are happy to do it. I made it through spring ball and the camps healthy and everything is good. After three years, the knee injury isn’t in my head anymore. They are pushing us to get better every day.”
After playing tight end last season, Miller has also made the move to wide receiver this year — making him, at 241 pounds, possibly the largest receiver in college football.
“I don’t think I’m going to beat anyone with my speed,” Miller said with a chuckle. “But I feel like my weight and size should be an advantage. I played receiver in high school, so it’s fun. I am still working out the kinks, and I hope to see some time.”
Rettig feels like his teammate has the chance to make plays.
“Brian’s a good player,” said the QB. “He’s played a lot of different positions and in a lot of different formations. We look for the right match-ups. Someone might be covered, but Brian is open. He worked hard and made a few plays last season, and we feel like he can do it again.”
The early signs are encouraging. Earlier this month, he had the game’s lone score, a 25-yard catch. Eagleaction.com raved about a “tremendous catch” he made on a low throw in traffic earlier in the scrimmage.
Now, he hopes that success carries into the regular season.
“It’s been a long time since we played a game,” he said. “With the new (coaching) staff and new players, everyone is excited. I feel great.”