Kevin Colley, Staff Writer
WHEELERSBURG -— They may not be used for 85 percent of the plays that occur on a football field, but make no mistake about it — excellent kickers are as valued of a commodity as any position around.
Over the past two seasons, Jalen Miller was the next man up for Wheelersburg at the kicker position. He filled that role — a role left behind by four-year starter Daylor Lewis — as admirably as one could, becoming a vital piece to a state championship-winning unit in 2017 and helping lead the Pirates to a state semifinal berth in 2018.
Now, he’s getting an opportunity to showcase his kicking skills — at the Division I FCS level.
Miller, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound multi-sport athlete who also contributes as a middle infielder on the baseball diamond, recently signed his National Letter of Intent to kick at Morehead State University.
For Miller, the opportunity to receive immediate playing time at a school like Morehead State was just too something he couldn’t pass up.
“I talked to the coaching staff, and basically, they have one guy [Andrew Foster] who is a junior punter,” Miller said. “They said, ‘He’s our only guy, so we’re looking for somebody to come in and make an instant impact. That lit me up right then. I was thinking, ‘Alright, this is something special. It’s a good opportunity for me.’ I went home and talked to my parents and they thought that was the best decision for me academically. Morehead State’s going to put me in the right direction, and it just felt like a really good fit for me.”
Over the course of his high school career, Miller has been a steady and productive athlete who has been as dependable on the field as he has been off of it.
This past season, after helping Wheelersburg win its first state title in 28 years, the senior added a splendid 2018 campaign by hitting 39-of-45 PAT attempts and 4-of-6 field goal tries, including 46 and 42-yard connections against Columbus Bishop Hartley — stats that allowed Miller to represent Wheelersburg on the first-team all-Southeast District list.
This spring, Miller will also enter his third season as a starter in the middle of Wheelersburg’s infield.
He has the option of also walking ontp Morehead State’s baseball program — a unit that won the Ohio Valley Conference Championship in 2018.
Miller admitted that, due to concerns about how he’d be able to balance two sports effectively in addition to academics, pursuing the baseball avenue wouldn’t be likely.
But he doesn’t deny that his success as a player, in both sports, was as much aided by a supportive environment that encouraged him to get better as anything else.
“There’s nothing like playing at Wheelersburg,” Miller said. “There’s nothing like running out of the locker room at Ed Miller Stadium on a Friday evening. You look up in the stands and it’s crazy. All of the fans are cheering for you, and it doesn’t matter if you are going to play all night or if you are going to sit the bench all night. They’re going to be behind you the entire time. It’s just a great atmosphere. No matter what it was, I felt like somebody always had my back. When you’re a kicker, you don’t get many opportunities. But when you do, you try to make the best out of them, and I really felt like I was able to do that with everybody that helped me out.”
With a population similar to Wheelersburg’s, Morehead, Ky. has very little differences, especially in the passion that’s present across each of the sports played on campus.
“It was awesome,” Miller said. “I stayed overnight. I stayed with a redshirt freshman who will be a sophomore this year, and he was really awesome. Everybody there was really welcoming. The coaches were really welcoming. On my overnight visit, I visited with different guys and different players, and they showed me around campus and showed me all of the buildings and dorms. Everybody there is saying, ‘Hey, where are you from?’ I’d tell them, ‘I’m a kicker, and I’m from Wheelersburg.’ They’d say, ‘Awesome. We’d love to have you here.’ The whole night just felt like it was home. It was awesome.”
MSU, however, was the right fit for Miller because the campus environment fits the philosophies that he was taught by guys like Rob Woodward, Michael Estep, and Derek Moore.
“They’re really respectable guys,” Miller said. “They teach you more than just the game of football or baseball. You might have practice for three hours, but that last 10 minutes of practice everyday is about being a better man. They’re telling you, ‘This is what you need to do. You need to hold the door for people. You need to be polite to everyone that you speak to. It’s those little things that all add up towards the end. It’s about turning you into the right man and being the best man that you can be.”
That respect for what others have done for him is what will carry Miller into a promising future, even when his playing days are over.
“I’m just beyond blessed,” Miller said. “My family, friends, and everybody who has been associated with Wheelersburg has been extremely supportive of my endeavors … athletically, academically, and personally. I couldn’t be more proud to be a Pirate, and I feel like the Morehead State community shares the same supportive traits that Wheelersburg has. I’m thrilled.”