Wayne High School football coach Jay Minton knew to expect a scowl from Braxton Miller whenever the Warriors came up with a conservative game plan to protect their star — a stop-you-in-your-tracks stare that told them their quarterback wasn’t happy.
“He’d just look at you with that competitive look he has,” Minton said. “And if you haven’t coached him and weren’t around him during that time, it’s hard to describe that look. It’s just like, he’s about ready to unload.”
Asked if Miller ever tried to talk his way into being a bigger part of the offense, Minton laughed and said, “Oh, yeah. He wouldn’t say that, he’d just do it.
“He’s so competitive that he wanted to make the play all the time. A lot of times we’d call a pass, and he’d run it — not to defy the coaches. He saw an opening and he’d take off.
“Shoot, I’m telling you, he wants the ball. And he’d almost get upset if you didn’t call his number.”
That’s the dilemma facing the Ohio State coaches with the reigning Big Ten offensive player of the year. While they might like to take measures to keep him in the pocket more, Miller’s instincts take over when he sees an opening in the defense — and rest assured, if there’s a seam, Miller will find it.
He suffered a sprained knee ligament on the seventh play of the opening drive against San Diego State last week. The Buckeyes called for a pass on fourth-and-1, but Miller ripped off a five-yard gain, only to have his knee twisted during the tackle.
On the Big Ten teleconference Tuesday, coach Urban Meyer said he’s “fairly optimistic” Miller will be ready to play at California on Saturday. But the coach wanted to wait to see how Miller practiced later that day before making the call.
Since taking over as the starter for the Buckeyes early in his freshman year, Miller has been knocked out of seven games with injuries. And he wasn’t exactly the Cal Ripken of high school quarterbacks, either.
A four-year starter, he missed 10 games during his career with the Warriors — the equivalent of an entire regular-season — including a prolonged stretch as a sophomore with a broken leg.
But he’s never left one game in college without returning for the next, and Minton saw that same resilience with the Warriors.
After rushing for 214 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-28 loss to state power Cincinnati Moeller to kick off his senior year, Miller had to sit out the next game with a high ankle sprain. But he returned the following week and led the Warriors to a win over Seneca (Ky.) High School.
“A lot of kids are out for several weeks with a high ankle sprain, and he came right back from that,” Minton said.
Meyer lauded Miller for his toughness this week, calling him “a fearless player.” And Minton bristles at the suggestion that Miller has durability issues.
“With what he’s doing now, he’s just so exposed that he takes some shots. And the way he moves — gosh, you don’t see too many kids in college moving the way he does — every once in a while, someone will get a pretty good shot at him,” Minton said. “He’s human, too. He’s not Superman.
“The other day, he got his helmet ripped off his head, and my understanding is he’s got a big ol’ scrape under his eye from where his helmet was ripped off. Those things are devastating. And that might sting him, but I don’t think it’s going to stomp him.”
Minton pointed out that dynamic dual-threat QBs will always be more at risk than pocket passers.
“He’s going to get banged up at his position, but he’s not injury prone by any means. I would debate that with anybody,” he said. “Seeing the longevity that kid’s had already and the amount of excitement and action he makes — if he just sat back there and didn’t want to get hit and was timid, that’s a different story.”
OSU has a capable backup in Kenny Guiton, who has cemented his place in Buckeye lore for the many times he’s finished off drives and pulled out wins after coming off the bench.
But Minton sees his protégé doing what he can to convince the medical staff he’s ready to go, and the coach would expect Miller to be Miller again on the field.
“If he plays this weekend, he’s going to utilize all those guys around him — because he’s got some dandies now,” he said. “But don’t be surprised if the kid does whatever it takes to win.”
Ohio State (2-0) at California (1-1), 7 p.m., FOX, 1410-AM