Oct. 18, 2011
ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Sam Miller is having the time of his life as a senior at the Naval Academy. He hopes that his experience is only beginning.
Consider the following.
In the classroom, Miller was a CoSIDA / ESPN The Magazine third-team Academic All-American last year, owning a 3.95 GPA in mechanical engineering. Through his junior year, he ranked 19th on the Academic Order of Merit and 57th on the Overall Order of Merit out of 1,135 classmates. He has recorded a 4.00 GPA in four straight semesters (every semester of his sophomore and junior years) and has been on the Commandant's List five times, the Superintendent's List three times and the Dean's List twice in his first six semesters of the Academy. And by the way, his class schedule for this semester includes your standard college courses of Heat Transfer, Mechanical Engineering Design, Weapons Design and Analysis and Control Systems and Their Application to Weapons.
On the field entering the Oct. 22 contest at American, Miller has played in 63 of a possible 67 games during his career, starting 41 of them. Not many players in school history have played more games than Miller and he has done it with a quiet confidence from day one. During his 63-game career, Miller has scored nine points (4 g, 1 a) as a midfielder and has had a flair for the dramatic doing so. He earned Patriot League Rookie of the Week honors on Sept. 15, 2008, after his first career goal came with just 27 seconds left in the second overtime of a 1-0 win over Saint Joseph's. His second career tally came as a sophomore, which tied the game at 2-2 in the 86th minute of a 3-2 victory over Temple. One of his two goals as a junior came with Navy trailing 2-0 against Holy Cross, a goal that kick-started a three-goal spurt in 13 minutes to give Navy a 3-2 come-from-behind victory over the Crusaders to keep the Mids in the hunt for a Patriot League Tournament berth.
Oh, and he also recorded a max score of 99.9 on the Physical Readiness Test in each of the last two semesters.
"Soccer has played such a big role in my development here. My best friends in the school are on the soccer team. I have cherished the chance to play with those guys every day in games and in practice," said Miller. "As far as leadership, I have said this numerous times, but I honestly believe that even though the Naval Academy is called the Leadership Laboratory and its mission is to develop leaders, I have learned just as much about leadership from playing soccer than I have during the rest of my experience, if not more. It has been just huge for me."
Lastly, on the military end of things, Miller just received word that he received his top service-selection choice of Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD). When you hear the reason he wanted that, it makes it even more impressive.
"What initially attracted me to EOD was its mission. Your job is to protect those who serve in our nation's military. Coming from a large family, it was always hammered home that I need to be responsible for my siblings and that protective nature is what led me to consider a career as an EOD officer," said Miller. "Once I went through the screening process and went on my cruise, I got to meet all of the EOD techs at training evaluation and the quality of the guys was unbelievable. I wanted to work with people like that. They were so driven to excel in all they do. To have the opportunity to work with them and hopefully sharpen them as they sharpen me would be an awesome, awesome opportunity."
Growing up in Tulsa, Okla., the son of Tony and Lynn Miller, Sam is the middle of five children. Miller was an active child, trying to compete in all he could, but it was soccer that ultimately grabbed his attention.
Growing up, I wanted to play every sport I could, but unfortunately being one of five kids kind of limits your options. We were all so busy," said Miller. "I was able to play basketball and soccer up until high school and at that point, I had to make a decision. I had played soccer since I was four and it was a huge part of my life. All my best friends came from the soccer teams I had played on. It was a pretty easy decision to make."
Tulsa provided him that opportunity. Many people think of Oklahoma as a football state and the powerhouse Oklahoma University football team, but soccer was always available for Miller. He would go to the fields on Saturday mornings and play until it got dark and the parents would call the kids home. He was able to meet all sorts of people and there was always new competition on the field.
And that is where he got his first introduction to the Naval Academy. One of his best friend's fathers attended the Academy and thought he would be a perfect fit for Navy. And even though Miller initiated the process it was that one conversation that peaked his interest.
"One of my friends' father came to school here and he really got me interested. I can remember the conversation. He said, `Sam, you would be a good fit for the Academy. You do well in school, you are in good shape, you are a good soccer player. You should consider going to the Naval Academy.'," said Miller. "After my sophomore year, I got really interested and I started looking into it. I came out for summer seminar program and came up to the soccer camp and tried to get noticed and get a spot on the team. One thing led to another, I got in and made the soccer team and have loved it ever since.
"I came in and wanted to be a pilot, and had no idea what EOD was. The first I heard about it was during my plebe summer and my squad leader selected it and I still didn't know what it was or what he did. But over the years, I just picked up bits and pieces and started learning about it. Once I found out what they did, I thought it sounded pretty cool," added Miller.
The drive and desire was instilled in Miller by his parents. They didn't prod or pressure Sam to have strong academics, but wanted him to do the best he could, just like his siblings. His oldest sister graduated from the University of Tulsa and is employed by the famous Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa. His other older sister matriculated at one of the top schools in America, Smith College, in Massachusetts. His younger brother is a sophomore at Santa Clara and his youngest sister is a senior in high school. The competition that the five of them had between them was a driving force behind all of their success.
"We were all really competitive, but it was especially so between me and my brother. Whether it be video games, backyard basketball, one-on-one baseball which we figured out how to play, we were always competing and trying to outdo each other," said Miller.
That competitive nature has benefited him at Navy. Serving as the team captain during the 2011 season, Miller has been part of a massive culture change in the Navy men's soccer program. It is a change that came about when Navy Director of Athletics Chet Gladchuk hired the sport's all-time winningest coach in Dave Brandt, two days before Christmas during Miller's freshman year.
It's a hire that has not only benefited Miller and the soccer program, but the entire Naval Academy. When talking about the effect Brandt has had on the soccer program, and on him as a person, Miller almost gets a little choked up.
"Playing for Coach Brandt has been great. He has really given this program a whole new purpose. The direction the program is going is something we all feel good about," said Miller. "The relationships on the team are as strong as they have been since I have been here, the expectations are higher than at any other point since I have been here. He has been a catalyst for a huge change in the culture of the soccer program."
When Miller came to the Academy, he was part of a 10-member freshman class that was expected to provide a lift during the 2008 season. Three years later, Miller, Wes Powell and Billy Sweetman are the only three remaining players from that team. The trio has developed a strong bond between them as they are the only three people on campus that know what each other have all been through.
"It definitely has made Wes, Billy and I closer. We started a bond at plebe summer and you rely on each other to get you through. We lost some of our classmates on the team and you lose that aspect and it makes you draw closer to the friends you have that have gone through the same things, like Billy and Wes," said Miller. "There are only two other guys at this school that can fully understand the experience I have had over the last four years at this school and that is Wes and Billy. They have been really important to me."
Miller, meanwhile, has embraced the role of team captain. As just one of three seniors on a team that features 18 freshmen or sophomores, Miller hopes that the leadership he, and the other two seniors and eight juniors on the roster, imposes on the team can show the younger guys how a leader is supposed to act. With talented freshman and sophomore classes, Miller feels the role of leadership is very valuable.
"Your freshman year here is hard for a lot of people and one of the things we have tried to do is stay positive and just be there for them. We all know they will have some rough days and what they go through, but we try to be there and say `In the end, it's all worth it.'", said Miller. "It will make you a stronger person. Whenever we can make their load a little lighter, we will do that for them. We want them performing on the field and off the field and anytime we can help them, we will do it for them."
"Sam is the total picture of what you want a captain to be. He is a great leader, an excellent player and has been positive and inspirational in every way possible," said third-year head coach Dave Brandt. "He has started in three different positions for us this fall and has been very capable, versatile and has filled whatever need we have.
Miller is admittedly a quiet leader, but its something that he has been working on this year.
"I try to be vocal, and its something I have worked on. I am not the loudest or most vocal guy, but I have tried to expand that aspect this year, especially as a captain and a senior," said Miller. "It has required me to come out of my shell some and that has been great for me. I feel I have been able to help the team by me doing that."
"Sam's biggest area of growth has been in his confidence as a person and a player," said Brandt. "He had all those qualities that you want as an athlete, captain, Midshipmen all along, but he has really started to show them outwardly. It's neat to see the evolution in his level of confidence in all those areas."
While it seems that Miller has accomplished a lot in his time at Navy, there is one item left unfinished as he closes out his career, and that would be to make the Patriot League Tournament. The Mids haven't been there since 2001 and for Miller to be part of the team that gets Navy back to the league's top event would be the perfect end to a great Navy career.
The Midshipmen were close last year, controlling their own destiny on the final day of the regular season before Lafayette defeated Navy, 1-0, on a questionable call in the penalty box resulting in a Leopards' penalty kick in the second half. A Navy win would have put the Mids into the tournament, ending an almost 10-year hiatus.
"It was gut-wrenching to lose the way we lost with what was at stake. It really hurt a lot. We felt so bad for our seniors and that was their last shot. I think we all felt we let them down," said Miller. "Hopefully, it won't happen this year, because I don't want to feel like that again. We have put ourselves in a position to not only go to the tournament but to also make some noise.
Miller continued, "One of the things about our team now and Coach Brandt is that we pursue relevance, not just at the Academy but on a national scale. One of the ways we could make a statement about who we are, where the program is going, how a team should look, how relationships on a team should look is by winning the Patriot League Tournament. It would spread the message and tell the nation that we aren't the old Navy that people used to beat up on, but that we can play and we came here to play."
As his senior year winds down and Miller heads out into the military ranks, he looks back at his time and has no reservations about his experience at the Naval Academy
"I haven't really had any doubts or questions about coming here. I'm not going to say there haven't been tough times. Everyone has them, but I never considered leaving, and I am really happy to be here and wouldn't want to be anywhere else," said Miller.
# GO NAVY #