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January 25, 2006The following article originally ran in Carolina Blue's print publication. Carolina Blue magazine allows UNC fans to get more in-depth coverage of the Tar Heels. To receive Carolina Blue magazine at your home click here to subscribe today!
North Carolina started out 11th and finished No. 1 in winning what many recruiting analysts are calling its most significant football commitment since Julius Peppers.
When Highland Springs, Va., linebacker Jarrell Miller grabbed a UNC cap and placed it on his head during the national televised broadcast of the U.S. Army All-American Game on January 6 it marked a major victory for the Tar Heels. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound Miller is ranked by Rivals.com as the nation's No. 6 prospect at inside linebacker and was offered scholarships by more than 40 NCAA Division I-A programs, including the others on his final list - Florida, Maryland, Tennessee, Virginia and Virginia Tech.
That list was considerably larger last spring when Highland Springs coach Scott Burton called Miller into his office for a chat. As he had done the previous year with Highland Springs' highly touted running back Victor Harris, who wound up signing with Virginia Tech, Burton wanted Miller to narrow his list of schools to a workable number of about 10 as he headed into the summer.
At that time, North Carolina wasn't exactly at the head of Miller's list.
"It's interesting that we've had a kid with as many scholarship offers as he (Miller) has for two years in a row," Burton said. "When their as highly touted as this, the way we do it is coming out of spring recruiting we feel 30 to 40 scholarship offers is too many to entertain. So we sit down with the kid and his parents and try to whittle that list to 10 or something in that ballpark to get to a manageable number.
"At the end of last spring when Jarrell and I sat down to talk, North Carolina was No. 11 on his list. He told me, 'Coach, even though they're not No. 1, I still like them.' I told him, 'Well, there's no reason we have to cut the list to 10. It can be 11.' So we squeezed them in at No. 11, and they went from there to No. 1. I think that's an interesting story because you never know how these recruiting deals are going to shake out."
Miller, a four-year varsity letterman and three-year starter, became a hot recruiting commodity after a junior season in which he made 80 tackles, 12 tackles for losses and a sack. He followed that up with an even more impressive senior campaign with 99 tackles, a school-record 17 tackles for losses and eight sacks as Highland Springs finished 8-3 and reached the state playoffs for a fifth consecutive season.
UNC running backs coach Andre Powell had already begun to recruit Miller, but his level of interest in the Tar Heels grew after an unofficial visit to Chapel Hill during the summer between his junior and senior years.
"He went down there last summer, but he didn't go to their (football) camp," Burton said. "But he went down there and watched them work out in the summer. He got to see the facilities and visit with the coaches, that sort of thing. That's probably when he started to become more serious about Carolina. They were intriguing to him before then, but he just couldn't put his finger on why. After that visit, I think he was more clear on the reasons why he liked Carolina."
The UNC coaching staff, especially head coach John Bunting, Powell and linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen, really made an impression on Miller.
"That was a big reason for me," Miller said. "I really felt comfortable with the coaches there. Coach Powell did a great job recruiting me. I really established a great relationship with Coach Thigpen and Coach Bunting, who were both linebackers. I think I felt sort of a kinship with them because of that and I think they'll be great people for me to learn from."
Burton said the Tar Heels are getting an athlete who has great physical ability as well as the intangible characteristics to become a great player at the college level. All those assets were evident from the first time Burton saw Miller as an eighth grader.
"We have a little program called "Future Springers." Springers is our school nickname," Burton explained. "It's like a one-day football camp on our campus during which our players serve as the instructors. It's our way of forcing them into positions of leadership in the community.
"Jarrell participated in that as an eighth grader, so we knew we had something coming up through the ranks. The next year he came back to our program as a ninth grader and he was about 6-2 and 215 pounds. So he came in with some pretty good promise, but he's worked extremely hard to cultivate that.
"Physically, he obviously had the size and he ran well. But more than that we fell in love with him because of the intangibles. He immediately brought enthusiasm to our team and had the willingness to get better. He had no ego at all. He wanted to be coached. He has a hunger and that's always been intriguing for us. I wish we could bottle it and give it to all our kids."
Miller began his varsity career at Highland Springs as a defensive end, where he played enough to letter as a freshman. He moved to linebacker and into the starting lineup as a sophomore at linebacker.
When he reports to UNC next fall, Miller will reunite with former Highland Springs High teammate Wyatt Hicks, a red-shirt freshman offensive lineman for the Tar Heels. He'll also arrive amid expectations that he'll have an instant impact on UNC's linebacker corps.
And Miller could contribute early in that area where senior starter Tommy Richardson and top reserves Jeff Longhany and Doug Justice have graduated. But Burton hopes Miller can red-shirt as a true freshman and become acclimated with the college scene academically and socially before facing the pressure of meeting those high expectations begins.
"I'm a big believer in red-shirting every freshman," Burton said. "I know today's athlete wants that instant gratification from playing and they don't want to red-shirt. But having played college ball myself and gone through the process, they have no idea what they're biting into. All they see are the games Saturday on TV and they don't understand the rigors of it.
"From what I hear, he'll be the biggest recruit in this class and those expectations are often hard to meet. I hate to see him play well (as a freshman) and still fall short of expectations. I would think it would be more prudent for him to spend a year to get acclimated to the (college) lifestyle and getting bigger and faster and becoming more of a man. That's not to say he's not mature. I don't mean that. But I just think kids benefit from having a year to focus on academics and other things before being thrown into the fire.
"Of course, all those decisions are out of my hands."
Miller isn't planning to relax now that football season is over and he's made his college choice. He's pondering a return to the Highland Springs basketball team and is already back in the weight room working out.
"He's never been the kind of kid who likes to sit around doing nothing," Burton said. "He loves to work out. He's the football equivalent to a gym rat. He always wants to be around the game."
The following article originally ran in Carolina Blue's print publication. Carolina Blue magazine allows UNC fans to get more in-depth coverage of the Tar Heels. To receive Carolina Blue magazine at your home click here to subscribe today!