It's Miller's time

Chris Jackson/The Register-HeraldIndependence’s Hayden Miller, right, practices with the football team Tuesday in Coal City.

The ride on the high school gridiron for Hayden Miller and his fellow Independence seniors can best be described as a roller coaster of sorts.

For the first time in their high school careers, the Indy seniors will kick off the 2019 football season with the same coach they had the previous season.

“They have had five coaches since 2012. There have been good people here, it’s just no cohesiveness for them,” second year Patriots head coach John H. Lilly explained. “I feel like for the first time in a while, they are feeling comfortable with our system.”

A stalwart on the defensive line last year, Miller admits the coaching carousel was not an easy situation for the team.

“It has been very difficult because it is hard to pick up on concepts, especially changing every single year,” Miller lamented. “This year things have settled down. We know that coach Lilly is going to stay and we all understand what he wants us to do.”

A two-sport athlete at Independence, both football and baseball started at an early age for Miller.

“I started playing both sports when I he was about 6 years old,” Miller said, smiling. “I played football for the Coal City Mountaineers; that is where it started for me and I have played every year since.”

Miller’s high school career is somewhat a mirror image of the coaching situation he has dealt with, bouncing around to different positions. The one common theme in each move was Miller’s willingness to do whatever his team needed at the time.

“Going into my sophomore year, the team was looking for a quarterback,” Miller reflected. “I felt like I was athletic enough to play quarterback. There is a lot more to it than people think. You have to know everything and it is very difficult. You have to be very talented to play that position.”

While Miller had the ability to play quarterback, his body had other ideas.

“He started out as a quarterback and outgrew that position. He is probably about 6-foot-3 and 255 (pounds) right now,” Lilly said.

Prior to his junior season, Miller made another move with the team in mind. That selfless decision helped him find his true home on the football field.

“We were in the middle of June workouts in coach Lilly’s first year and he said we needed help up front,” Miller explained. “I was willing to do anything for my team, so I went up there and fought in the trenches with them.”

Starting on defense, iIt did not take Miller long to become a disruptive force for the Patriots.

“(Hayden) is an excellent pass rusher and he is long,” Lilly said. “He may only be 6-foot-3, but he plays more like 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8 with his wingspan. It makes him hard to block.”

With one year in the trenches under his belt, Miller bought in to Lilly’s philosophy which has better prepared him for his senior season.  

“Hayden worked really hard in the off-season. He put on 30 pounds, but his speed increased in the meantime,” Lilly said. “He is probably one of our best, well conditioned players. We did some intense running (on the first day of practice) and he handled it like he was a running back.”

Miller’s conditioning will really be put to the test this season as he moves from just playing defense to also playing offensive tackle.

“This will be his first season playing both ways, but, he loves it,” Lilly said. “You could not ask for a better kid. He is yes sir, no sir and he was raised right. He is very efficient in what he does, makes very few mistakes and he is very aggressive.”

Coming off a 5-5 year and narrowly missing the playoff, Miller feels his team has the ability to have a special season.

“My goal is to reach Wheeling Island. I believe we have the team that can make it this year,” Miller said. “We have all been together pretty much since sixth grade. In eighth grade, this group of seniors won the county championship. In our senior year we are looking for a state championship.”


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