Though he may be the new man on campus, sophomore quarterback Maikhail Miller feels some familiar comforts in Murray – a small town and a chance to play football.
Miller grew up in Fulton, Miss., a rural town more than an hour outside of Birmingham, Ala. Then Miller spent his freshman year of college in Oxford, Miss., at Ole Miss.
So for Maikhail, playing football in a small town is not anything new.
Football was not always Miller’s sports of choice. Baseball was his first love. He began playing at a very young age and was a diehard New York Yankees fan throughout his childhood. As school started, Miller began playing basketball and football. Throughout middle and high school, Miller played all three sports.
As it became time to begin thinking about college athletics, Miller was forced to choose between playing baseball or football. He received a few lower-level baseball scholarships and also attended some pre-draft MLB camps with the possibility of foregoing college to immediately enter the draft.
After his junior season, Miller got a football scholarship offer from Ole Miss. This offer, Miller said, was too good to pass up.
“I went to a couple MLB camps and pre-draft things,” Miller said, “but I wanted to go to school and get an education. It was the SEC and you can’t beat that, plus it was about an hour away from the house.”
During his freshman season, Miller played behind then-sophomore quarterback Bo Wallace. As a freshman, Miller saw action in two games, rushing six times for 23 yards while failing to complete a pass.
Following the season, Wallace returned to lead the Rebel offense in his junior season. Additionally, Ole Miss signed highly touted freshmen Devante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan. Miller, now buried deep down the Ole Miss depth chart, decided it was time to transfer.
“They had their guy coming back from surgery and they had two other guys they were bringing in that they really liked,” Miller said. “I just wanted to move on and get a little playing time. It just wasn’t the right fit anymore.”
As he began to think about transferring to a different school, Miller went to his quarterbacks coach Dan Werner for advice. Werner was an assistant coach at Murray State in the early 2000’s under Head Coach Joe Pannunzio. Werner said he thought it would be a good fit and before long, Miller was on the phone with Head Coach Chris Hatcher.
Murray State lost All-American Casey Brockman just a few months earlier, and Hatcher was still looking for his new signal caller. Miller was sold.
When asked if he wanted to prove Ole Miss wrong for not giving him a chance to start, Miller said there were no hard feelings.
“It’s definitely in the back of my mind,” Miller said, “but I really don’t hold any grudges. I just want to come out here and have fun. I just love playing the game and that’s what I want to do.”
When Miller arrived on campus during the first day of preseason practice in August, he was immediately thrust into a stiff quarterback competition. Junior Parks Frazier had impressed coaches in camp and seemed to be leading the race, while sophomore KD Humphries had also been working behind Brockman for a year, preparing to start.
Miller also came in without any prior knowledge of the offense, putting him at a severe disadvantage compared to the two other quarterback hopefuls.
“I worked hard,” Miller said. “I really didn’t know the offense so I studied and watched a lot film after practice.”
While Frazier and Miller both looked impressive in scrimmages and practices, the coaching staff named Miller the starter because of his consistency and potential.
“He was the most consistent in camp,” Hatcher said, “That was without having a spring practice under his belt. We feel that the more reps he gets, the better he’s going to be.”
Miller now finds himself leading the famed “Hatch Attack” offense, which made Brockman the all-time leading passer in Murray State history. Racer fans should expect some significant differences this season, however, as Miller provides more athleticism and mobility potential from the pocket.
Miller said he believes his ability to run the ball will help open up the fast-paced offense.
“My style opens the offense up a little more,” Miller said. “A lot of people like to run the quarterback in these fast paced offenses, and I think it’ll help out a lot with my ability to run the ball and keep plays alive.”
Though it has been a month of change for Miller, transitioning from a reserve role on an SEC team to leading a brand new offense against a tough opponent in Missouri, Miller remains relaxed and confident as he begins this new chapter.
“I’m a guy that just lets it flow,” Miller said. “I just want to get an education, be the best player I can be here and see how it goes.”
Miller gets his first chance Saturday at Missouri.
Story by Jonathan Ferris, Staff Writer