As if his throbbing ankle was not enough of an impediment during the second half of last year’s Insight Bowl, Zach Miller was being constantly targeted by an aggressive group of Rutgers linebackers.
On a couple of occasions, after the Arizona State tight end was sent forcibly to the Chase Field turf, he sat up, somewhat uncertain of his surroundings. Then, a reliable, familiar hand was there with a tug to his jersey.
On your feet, kid.
“He grabbed me, pulled me up and told me to get my butt back to the huddle,” Miller said. “I was a little dizzy, but he helped me get better in time for the next play.”
All of Zach’s life, Brent Miller has been more like a best friend. However, there are times when big brother needs to assert himself.
The Millers are junior tight ends — Brent, the oldest by 18 months, has utilized his redshirt year, Zach has not — who figure to be in the same huddle often for the Sun Devils, who begin fall practice on Friday.
Zach, a Playboy preseason All-American, is the starting tight end. Brent, who battled back from knee surgery in 2004 and waited behind sincegraduated Lee Burghgraef last year, heads into camp the firststringer at the other tight end spot, which in ASU’s offense is called an H-back.
“We thought about that when we were getting recruited, and we felt it would happen eventually,” Zach Miller said. “We’re both great players, and it was a matter of time that we would be in the starting lineup.
“We’ve been in the huddle before, so the feeling won’t be different. It will just be happening a lot more.”
Both are 6-feet-5, but Zach, listed at 259 pounds, is 20 pounds heavier. Zach is one of the best blockers in the nation at his position, while Brent’s blocking improvement has keyed his rise up the depth chart. The pass-catching skills of the Millers are perhaps unrivaled on the ASU roster.
“They are different players, but only because Zach weighs more,” Sun Devil coach Dirk Koetter said. “Mentally, they are similar in that they are so versatile and sharp, we can move them around a lot.
“If we had a hands contest on our team, they might finish Nos. 1 and 2. And I don’t know who would be No. 1.”
Both players consider the 2006 season a chance to showcase their talent. Zach is eager for the monster season that was denied him last year due to a nagging ankle injury, while Brent wants to show that his skills are equal to those of his more heralded younger brother.
“If you ask me how I see my boys, Brent and Zach are very similar, talent-wise,” said their father, Tom, who coached the boys in Pop Warner and is a near-daily attendee of ASU’s practices.
“Zach gets a lot of press, but Brent is there with him. . . . The couple of games last season that Zach missed, Brent was in there playing, and he did a lot of good things, the kind of things that Zach would’ve done if he had been in there playing.”
Brent Miller, who has 10 catches for 142 yards and three touchdowns with ASU, did not play tight end before college. When the brothers were at Phoenix Desert Vista High School, Brent played quarterback and safety.
Mastering a new position, especially in an offense as complex as Koetter’s, was no easy task, and the knee injury affected his confidence. However, in 2005, Brent showed he was getting it — especially in the two contests Zach missed while resting his ankle.
He caught a touchdown pass against Northwestern, then made a 41-yard reception at Oregon State the following week.
“Things were little slow the first couple of years,” Brent Miller said. “But I think I started to get everything down last year. I feel really comfortable in the offense now.”
While forging a football life of his own, Brent served as a window to the next level for Zach. Those previews were of great benefit to the younger brother in 2004, as Zach came to Camp Tontozona already well aware of its great commandments — know the plays, command respect from the upperclassmen and be able to sing the ASU fight song correctly.
“Him being there, he knew how it worked,” Zach Miller said. “He told me what kind of a commitment was expected of me, and how much harder it was than high school.”
Zach Miller hit the ground running as a freshman, earning the nickname “The Truth” for living up to his high school hype. He has started 22 games as a Sun Devil, with 94 catches for 1,028 yards and 10 touchdowns.
For an older brother, being the first in the family to get the accolades that Zach Miller has enjoyed could be considered a birthright. Brent Miller said that he gets asked about it often: Has it been difficult to watch Zach in the spotlight all the time?
“Less than people think,” Brent Miller said. “If we weren’t related, it would be tough, since I’m a tight end, and there’s another tight end at my school that is so good. But I honestly don’t think about it that much. I’m proud as hell of him, and I’m his biggest fan.”
There is one milestone Brent achieved at ASU before Zach: Getting to the end zone. The brothers’ first huddle together as Sun Devils, in the 2004 season opener against Texas-El Paso, was also Brent’s first collegiate play from scrimmage.
Quarterback Andrew Walter faked a handoff, dropped back and lobbed a pass to Brent for a 2-yard touchdown.
“I was open on the play, too,” Zach Miller said, smiling. “Everyone was giving me crap, saying that he scored before me.”
Now, the Millers anticipate many more huddles together, with the goal of making their family affair is a very productive one for the Sun Devils.
“So many families today are divided and broken apart,” Koetter said. “To see a family like that, where they are so tight and best friends — and their father right there, every step of the way — it’s great.”
ASU football preseason dates
Friday-Aug. 9: Practices in Tempe Aug. 10: Team departs for Camp Tontozona; first camp practice Aug. 12: Scrimmage, 8:35 a.m. Aug. 17: Last camp practice; team returns to Tempe Aug. 18: Scrimmage at Sun Devil Stadium, 7 p.m. Aug. 21: First day of classes; no practice Aug. 31: Season-opening game vs. Northern Arizona, 7 p.m.; Sun Devil Stadium