Asmussen | A new calling for Miller

Asmussen | A new calling for Miller

MONTICELLO — No Illinois player I have covered over the years had as much fun as Brit Miller. The high school quarterback turned Big Ten linebacker was always friendly. He made you laugh. A lot.

The kind of guy who would happily sit under a giant hair dyer at his mom's beauty salon for a photo. I was there and it still puts a smile on my face.

But when it came to football, Miller was all business.

The proud Decatur Eisenhower graduate started three seasons for Ron Zook, earning All-Big Ten honors as a senior.

Signed by the Carolina Panthers as an undrafted free agent, he switched to fullback with the 49ers and Rams.

When his pro football career ended in 2012, Miller took a break from the sport.

It didn't last. A few years later he joined the staff at Mount Zion.

"Very close to Decatur," Miller said. "I want to point that out."

Then, before the 2017 season, former Illini linebacker Matt Sinclair left Monticello's coaching staff to become a college assistant. Sinclair called Miller and said "You need to come take this job."

Miller did.

"We've been pretty fortunate to have two Illini backers back to back," Monticello coach Cully Welter said.

Why switch from Mount Zion? Simple: family.

Miller's uncle, Matt Snyder, is a volunteer assistant with the Sages. His cousin, Braden, is the Monticello quarterback.

"I got a call from my uncle, then I got a call from my grandpa John (Snyder)," Miller said. "When Grandpa John calls, he said 'It's be a really neat thing to see you out there with Braden and Matt.' Grandpa don't say much. When he talks, people listen."

Miller and Matt Snyder have always been close.

"A great football mind," Miller said. "He's one of the guys I would talk to after college games or NFL games."

The family members are tight-knit. They were around often during Miller's Illinois career.

"They love their Brit," former Illinois defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Dan Disch once said.

On a roll

Miller is making fans in Monticello, too.

The Sages enter Saturday's Class 3A state quarterfinal game at Grennville with an 11-0 record. The defense has allowed just 83 points all season. The Sages have three shutouts and held five teams to eight or fewer.

It's been a good year. The level of expectation with Sinclair in charge hasn't changed with Miller. The style is a bit different.

"I think it's more of a laid-back approach," Miller said. "I took some time to assess what we had and what my expectations were of those guys."

No need for Miller to be stern.

"Cully runs a tight ship," Miller said, "He's going to be on top of it. I've been able to come in and coach the way I was coached by Dan Disch."

He's not always Mr. Sunshine.

"Intense in the moment," Miller said.

Of course, winning helps.

"We haven't not had the lead a lot when I've coached at Monticello," Miller said. "I haven't really had a chance to lose it. I do take pride in riding the refs a little bit. It's been very pleasant."

The head coach likes Miller's work.

"I think he's doing very well," Welter said. "This second year in particular, he's so much more comfortable with the kids that we have and how to utilize them. He's just done an excellent job."

In his early years of prep coaching, Miller realized high school players weren't as universally dedicated as college players.

"Some of them are, five or six on a team," Miller said. "We're blessed at Monticello to have more than that. You can see that's where some of our success comes from."

Welter is a big help.

"Cully is a great head coach," Miller said. "He's a good head coach for me just as a guy to learn from. He's really been a blessing for me, seeing how he treats kids, (and he's) really raised my expectations of high school coaches as well."

Miller has made it a point not to say "when I played ..." But he uses his own career to give examples of "this is what I would have done."

The Monticello linebackers have shown a lot of the traits Miller had as a player: physical and looking for chances to force turnovers.

"Right now," Miller said, "our linebackers are playing at a level that is going to be tough to compete with."

Long days

Miller, 32, works in a sales job with Barbeck Communications. He is based in Urbana.

"I've gotten a little better in time management, making sure I'm back to practice on time," Miller said. "Coach Welter has high expectations, but does understand."

The Monticello staff communicates daily and bounces ideas off each other. Miller starts his day in Mount Zion, jumps in his Chevy Equinox and goes to the current work site.

"It's more commonly known as the 'Barbeckquinox,'" Miller said. "I've had it for coming up on two years and already have over 98,000 miles on it.

"I start my days earlier during the football season and do a lot at night."

His work sometimes extends into practice. He gets calls during the workouts.

"A lot less calls are taken during the playoffs," Miller said.

Miller and his wife Emily have four young children — Macy (8), Cooper (6), Beau (4) and Pressley (born in August).

"We had our fourth baby the first week of practice," Miller said, "(Emily) has really been a saint in this whole process."

Don't count on seeing Miller taking over a program as head coach one day. That is not a part of the plan.

"I would only ever want to be a head coach if it was my kids just because I wouldn't want anybody else to ruin them," Miller said. "I'd rather take full responsibility for that."

Some have suggested Miller coach in college. The only job he would want is at Illinois.

"Those things are all so short-lived," Miller said. "Where do you want to have success? Right now, it's an easy choice because I've got a cousin in Monticello and I enjoy it there."

When he is not coaching or hanging out with his growing family, Miller follows his alma mater's football team.

"I'm a huge Reggie Corbin fan," Miller said. "I bleed Orange and Blue."

Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at asmussen@news-gazette.com.

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