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For much of his first three years of high school athletics at Collins, Paul Miller was the blond-haired, blue-eyed poster boy for patience, persistence, perseverance, perspiration and preparation.
However, only one word is needed to describe Miller’s recently completed senior year – winner.
As a three-sport starter, in boys’ soccer, basketball and baseball, all he did was win, win, win.
Those three Titans teams went a combined 68-13-2 – an astounding 81.9 winning percentage – collected two district tournament titles and advanced to the 8th Region Tournament semifinals in each sport.
“It all came together for him his senior year,” Collins baseball coach Roy Bailey said.
But it took those five P’s and plenty of hard work for Miller to get there.
‘He grew up with
a ball in his hands’
Chet and Denise Miller can attest that their second son wasn’t born with a ball in his hand, and that “ball” wasn’t his first word - “Close, but not first,” his father, Chet, said – but it wasn’t too long thereafter before a ball, any type of one, was a regular appendage.
“He grew up with a ball in his hands,” Chet Miller said.
“It didn’t seem to matter what ball he had in his hand, he knew what to do with it,” Denise Miller added.
Baseball, which Miller said he’s been playing “since I could walk,” and basketball are the ones he’s been around the longest, starting out in the park leagues in Simpsonville. He picked up soccer along the way – “it was baseball with a bigger ball to me,” Miller, a goalkeeper, said.
By the time he was 8, Miller, who picked up the nickname “Giggles” when he was younger for his easy-smiling nature, was going year-round, changing sports with the seasons.
There was a brief foray into football, but by junior high it was primarily soccer, basketball and baseball.
“Every sport helped me with the next,” Miller said of the combination of conditioning, footwork and hand-eye coordination.
Miller came into Collins as a member of the very athletically gifted Class of 2014 – which most notably produced a state championship in football last December.
He like many of them, though, had to wait his turn behind some deep and talented classes.
By his sophomore year Miller played in a handful of varsity games on the soccer and baseball teams, but he was further down the depth chart in basketball.
Collins boys’ basketball coach Chris Gaither remembered meeting with Miller, who at the time wasn’t as physically mature as some of his classmates, after he never got off the bench in a junior varsity game.
“He’s a kid that came out of a meeting we had, a very honest meeting, and he decided to stay around the program,” Gaither said. “A lot of kids wouldn’t have had the perseverance, but he said, ‘I’m going to stick this out.’”
That’s something that can be traced to his upbringing, in more ways than one.
Sticking with it
“We had a rule, if he started a season, he had to finish it,” Denise Miller said.
Added Miller: “A lot of it has to do with my parents. Obviously they gave me a Christian example, but they also gave me guidelines on how to be a good person, work hard and do the right things.”
Miller, who often had double practices with the JV and varsity teams as a sophomore and junior, kept doing his thing, plugging away.
By the time he was a junior, Miller’s playing time increased, but he was still playing being some very talented players on teams that combined to go 69-18-2 (a 77.5 winning percentage).
He played in goal four times, allowing only three goals, that fall for the boys’ soccer team. He provided some valuable relief of starting goalkeeper Brandon Hughes off the bench in a 1-0 victory over Mercer County early in the season – which included the program’s first district title.
“Paul has probably the best hands I’ve ever seen, not only in soccer, but in baseball and basketball too,” Collins boys’ soccer coach Scott Cress said. “When it touched his hands it wasn’t going anywhere.”
That winter he saw some varsity action with the basketball team – he played the same position as 8th Region Player of the Year Dez Marshall – but most of his minutes were on the JV level. That was when, Miller said: “I kind of started realizing that I could play.”
After missing winter workouts due to basketball, Miller started slowly that spring on the baseball diamond. He didn’t play much in the first half of a season on a team that got off to a very fast start – winning its first 20 games – thanks to a roster replete with players, who would sign, or have signed, to play the sport collegiately.
“I was nervous last year because my spot wasn’t guaranteed. I was scared to mess up,” Miller said. “But I started working my way up.”
He broke in as a defensive player before earning at-bats. In the Titans’ 18th game he went 1-for-4 with one run scored in a 9-2 win at Elizabethtown. The next day he went 1-for-3 with a double and an RBI in the Titans’ 10-7 triumph at Fairdale, his mother’s alma mater. Around that time came a turning point for Miller. He stopped worrying about making mistakes, he said, and just focused on playing. He was a regular starter after that.
His confidence was bolstered when, as the team’s No. 9 hitter, he drove in the only run in the Titans’ 1-0 victory at crosstown-rival Shelby County last May.
In the postseason, he was a key contributor in Collins’ run to the 8th Region title and into the state quarterfinals. He had a hit in each of the Titans’ first four postseason games, and also provided some relief pitching in the Titans’ 7-6 triumph over South Oldham in the region semifinals. His best game, though, may have come in Collins’ 6-4 victory over highly touted Tates Creek in the first round of the state tournament. Miller, who played first and second during the game, had eight putouts and one assist.
“Against Tates Creek, he goes and digs out two balls in a row where if he doesn’t dig those balls out we don’t go on to win the game,” Cress said. “He wasn’t scared of the big moment.”
Added Gaither: “In the regional and state it seemed like every time a big play was needed, or big hit was needed, Paul Miller got that hit, or made that play. One thing that I knew [for the next basketball season was] we had a winner on our team.”
Miller carried that momentum into his senior year.
After waiting, and in some cases, waiting and waiting, senior year was finally Miller’s time. Now physically mature, and with 170 pounds on his frame – though the cherub face still remains – Miller was a starter.
In the Titans’ first soccer match of the season he shutout Anderson County. It was a sign of things to come for Collins and Miller, who gave up only 15 goals in 19 starts. The Titans went 8-0-2 in their first 10 matches, which included a 2-1 triumph over 12-time defending state champion St. Xavier. Miller withstood a flurry of shots in the final minutes to preserve the victory over the Tigers, who had entered with a 56-match unbeaten streak against in-state competition.
“Paul’s not the fastest kid and doesn’t necessarily have the quickest reactions, but he got every single ball,” Cress said. “One time I asked him, ‘Paul, how do you know where the ball’s going?’ He said, ‘I just see it coach.’”
Thanks in large part to Miller’s performance the Titans went 15-4-2 – of their four losses, three were by one goal and the other was by only two – won their second straight 30th District Tournament title and finished the season second in the state in goals allowed.
Still, it was a busy time for Miller.
Some days he would have basketball practice at 6:30 a.m., go to school, then have soccer practice from 4-6 p.m., followed by baseball practice from 6-8 p.m.
“And I also had to work on homework, shower and eat,” Miller said.
It was rinse and repeat for quite awhile.
“It was a lot [to do],” he said. “But it got me to where I am today, so I can’t complain about it.”
It was during those times that Miller utilized his time-management skills and relied on a certain bit of meticulousness. The latter had never been a problem for him, though.
Denise Miller said that once, when Paul Miller was 3 or 4, she sent him to his room with a basket full of folded clothes to put away. When he didn’t return for a while, she went to check on her son, who she found refolding the clothes.
“He said, ‘I didn’t like the way you folded them,’” Denise Miller recalled.
“He’s a perfectionist, he has a lot of attention to detail,” Chet Miller added. “One of his first phrases was, ‘I’ll do it myself.’ He was always very independent, very self-sufficient.”
Learning his role
The sport Miller needed that inner-strength and confidence the most was basketball after he had played sparingly, mostly in mop-up minutes, as a junior. His senior season he was a starter from Day One, though.
“Paul is one of those kids, he’s going to be on time to practice every day, he’s going to outwork people, he’s going to outthink people,” Gaither said. “Every great team has someone that does all the dirty work. Any dirty work we needed he’d take care of. Any hustle plays we needed he’d take care of.
“He’s one of those kids if you told him to go out and run twenty miles before a game he’s going to go out there and do it. I think Paul’s always had that winning mentality, he’ll always do whatever it takes to win.”
With Miller playing his role to a tee, the Titans, who had graduated four starters from a team that won 21 games the season before, had a surprising season.
Miller scored eight points in Collins’ season-opening victory over Gallatin County. It was one of his highest scoring efforts of the season.
“I probably didn’t score a hundred points for the season,” he said.
But when his team needed him, Miller was there.
In one of the final games of the regular season the Titans played without senior standout Ralphie Stone, who was injured, in a road game at Harrison County. Miller hit a big 3-pointer late in the game, then took a key charge in the final seconds.
“On their Senior Night, Paul has the courage to step up with seven seconds left and takes a charge and he wins the game,” Gaither said. “With Paul you didn’t think about the scoring column, because there were so many small things he did that helped the team win.”
The Titans won a school-record 25 games before falling to South Oldham in overtime in the 8th Region Tournament semifinals on March 10.
Three days later Miller went 2-for-2 with a double, two runs scored and an RBI while batting cleanup in the baseball team’s season opening win over Gallatin County. The next day he went 2-for-4 with one RBI and tossed two innings, giving up one hit and striking out three, in Collins’ triumph over Moore. It was a big start for Miller, who batted .232 as a junior.
“Seeing that pitching last year definitely helped,” he said.
On the mound, Miller, who pitched only seven innings in five games and had a 6.00 earned-run average as a junior, emerged in his final season, just as Chris Cervantes and Dan Sanders before him.
“When they become seniors they mature emotionally and physically,” Bailey said. “[Paul] had all the years of preparation, then he started coming into his own body physically.”
“Coach Bailey really worked with us on mechanics,” Miller said. “Without Coach Bailey I know my arm would not have a chance.”
He formed a potent 1-2 pitching combo with fellow senior Zac Wiley.
In his first start, in the Titans’ fourth game of the season, Miller gave up one hit, walked two and struck out seven in four innings in the Titans’ 6-1 win over Oldham County. In his second start he threw six scoreless innings and struck out seven in Collins’ 2-1 win over Woodford County.
Miller hit .373 and was 7-1 with a 1.92 ERA for the Titans, who would’ve been the No. 1 team in the state entering the postseason if polls had come out after the final week of the regular season.
In the district tournament semifinals Miller struck out a school-record 16 in the Titans’ 5-0 triumph over Spencer County.
His lone loss of the season came in the following week, in what would be the final game of his career, against Simon Kenton in the region semifinals. Miller admittedly struggled, “hitting my spots,” giving up five runs in 3 2/3 innings. The game, though, would be suspended by rain in the top of the sixth, with the Titans trailing 5-1. It left Miller with a difficult night.
“Looks like my nightmare came true,” he tweeted that night.
“I literally had a dream during district that we lost because I messed up,” he recalled last week. “That was real tough.”
Friends rallied around him. The Titans rallied the next day, scoring twice in the top of the sixth, but lost to the eventual state runners-up (a double-edged sword of “That could have been us,” and “Hey, we lost to the team that made it to the state championship game”).
“It is what it is,” Miller said a week later, still visibly bothered by the defeat.
‘The total package’
In addition all his victories, Miller made an equally large impression off the athletic courts and playing fields at Collins and within in the community.
“He’s just like all those seniors I had this year, they’re great people,” said Cress, who recently became a father. “I hope that my son grows up to be like these guys did. Maybe they’re athletic, maybe they’re not, but they take advantage of every opportunity given and they’re just great people on top of everything.”
Added Bailey: “The thing everyone says about Paul is he’s a great kid. He’s been involved in lots of things, he’s been involved with helping people, he’s on a mission trip this week. He’s a great athlete, he’s smart and he’s got good character. He’s the total package.”
That was proven in early May when Miller, a 4.0 student, won the 2014 Forcht Bank/KHSAA CLASS $3,000 Scholarship. The CLASS (Citizenship, Leadership, Athletics, Sportsmanship, Scholarship) is given annually to one boy and one girl in the state.
“He’s not the most athletic kid, but because of his work ethic and leadership, he led three teams to very successful seasons his senior year,” Gaither said.
For his part, Miller enjoyed every minute of it.
“It was my last chance to go do it, I was trying to enjoy every moment and trying to do as good as I could and leave a legacy for the kids coming up too,” he said.
Miller, who has been in New Orleans this week on a mission trip with the youth group from his church, isn’t sure what his future holds. He hopes to play college baseball, and pursue a degree in physical therapy, but isn’t sure where yet.
“It’s stressful, but I know it’ll all fall into place,” Miller said.
If anyone has the patience, persistence and perseverance to pull it off it’s Paul Miller.