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Change to safety lines up with Miller's mantra to make the most of every play


Jake Miller sports a rather distinct look when surrounded by his Nixa teammates, what with him letting his flowing blonde hair grow out this summer below his collar.

An NFL aficionado, he naturally would root for an All-Pro defensive back who also has blonde locks.

“I don't think there are any,” he said.

Miller has still found his favorite NFL player is someone he feels he looks like and strives to be like.

“I watched a lot of Sauce last year at Cincinnati,” Miller said, referring to New York Jets rookie Sauce Gardner. “He's got really good technique and footwork and is fast and quick. He has a lanky body like me. I try to mirror what he does.”

However, with Gardner being a cornerback and Miller being a cornerback turned safety, he has gone to YouTube to watch highlights of a pair of former NFL stud safeties. 

“I'm a big Sean Taylor and Ed Reed fan,” he said, referring to the former Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens safeties. 

Miller started at cornerback for Nixa last season and was one of the team’s most improved players over the course of the season. He finished with 28 tackles and an interception.

All the while, the Eagles’ coaching staff envisioned Miller as a safety due to his ferocity and with safeties Cody Breeden and Keith Piepmeier both being seniors.

“(Defensive backs coach Robb Richardson) talked to me a little bit about it last year, since they would both be graduating,” Miller said. “It’s big shoes to fill. It's a lot to handle to replace those two.”

Miller has found the change challenging,

“It's a lot more physical than corner, I'll say that. It’s also more complicated," he said. "You have to take your time to learn everything and make sure you've got your read-steps right, make sure you're reading the right guys off the line. It's attention-to-detail-oriented.

“One of my jobs is to read the run and shoot up the middle,” he added. “Whenever the linebackers need help on tackles, I'll be there. I feel like I'm always in on the play. I always get to be part of the play.”

Miller’s brother, Adam, was a quarterback at Kickapoo for the 2020 season. Nixa coach John Perry loves to think outside the box and utilize his players’ varied talents. But when Jake transferred from Kickapoo to Nixa a year ago, Perry never was tempted to see what kind of spiral Jake can throw.

“He’s feisty and has a defensive mentality,” Perry said. “He’s taken ownership on the defensive side.”

Perry is preaching that in order for  the Eagles to be elite he’d like them to “play seven seconds at time,” even when the average play takes four to six seconds. He adds Miller is as fine an example that Nixa has of making every second and then some count.

A prime example of Miller’s passion and hustle occurred this week in practice after teammate Spencer Ward picked off a pass. Ward ran the ball back to the 50-yard line and was preparing to stop when Miller implored him to go all the way to the end zone. As Ward promptly went for paydirt, Miller ran alongside with him.

“You have to play to the whistle,” Miller said. “I try to do my best on every play to get to the ball or at least make effort on every play. In Week One against Webb (City), there may be a breakout run after someone misses a tackle, but If you're used to (getting to the ball) in practice already, you're going to be there in a game. You always have to be willing to put yourself on the line.”