rose bowl reunion375

Rick Danzl/The News-Gazette Brit Miller, right, and J Lehman visit during a reunion at Memorial Stadium on Saturday July 21, 2018 of the members of 2008 Rose Bowl team from the University of Illinois.Rick Danzl/The News-Gazette ¿ Brit Miller, right, and J Lehman visit during a reunion at Memorial Stadium on Saturday July 21, 2018 of the members of 2008 Rose Bowl team from the University of Illinois.

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Happy 33rd birthday to Illini football alumnus Brit Miller. The former Decatur Eisenhower High School star was a member of Ron Zook’s first recruiting class and eventually became a co-captain for the 2008 squad with Juice Williams, Arrelious Benn and David Lindquist.

Miller started five games at linebacker as a freshman in 2005, 10 as a sophomore in ’06, 10 as a junior in ’07 and then all 12 games as a senior in ’08.

Illinois’ No. 44 had a sensational final campaign, notching 132 tackles, 151 / 2 tackles for loss, six quarterback sacks, breaking up eight opponent passes, intercepting one pass, forcing three fumbles and returning one of them for 27 yards. In the 2008 Rose Bowl against Southern Cal, Miller had five solo tackles, three TFLs and a sack. The Big Ten media selected him as a first-team All-Big Ten honoree in 2008.

Career-wise, Miller totaled 33 TFLs for 116 yards in losses, ninth-best at the time on UI’s all-time list.

Though he was not selected in the 2008 NFL draft, he was signed as a free agent by the Carolina Panthers. Carolina waived Miller, but the San Francisco 49ers picked him up and switched him to play as a fullback. He played three final seasons with the St. Louis Rams, serving as the special teams captain in 2012.

Today, Miller is an account executive for Barbeck Communications, a wireless communications company based in Decatur. His “Leading the Way” foundation helps area athletes with safety equipment, health and the overall growth of sports in the area.

Miller’s family includes his wife (Emily), a daughter (Macy) and three sons (Cooper, Beau and Presley).

Some of Miller’s Illini memories:

2007 victory over Penn State: “Arrelious Benn ran back the opening kickoff. There’s this iconic picture of Arrelious, Martez Wilson and Vontae Davis all celebrating and running stride-for-stride into the new end zone together. From my vantage point, I was the one that threw the cross block that knocked out two guys and nobody touched them. I realized that I was going to have to do all of the dirty work, but those guys were the big playmakers and proved that throughout their career. That first play of the game when we let them know we were for real was definitely one of my fondest memories.”

2007 win at No. 1 Ohio State: “We were in a bad mood after losing at Iowa a couple of weeks before. We knew Ohio State was beatable. Offensively, they had some weapons, but nothing we were really scared of. Our offense had to produce. Juice (Williams) had a phenomenal game and Rashard (Mendenhall) was really starting to come into his own. What I remember best was our kickoff team. We had some guys who were just nuts — myself, Rakheem Smith, Martez Wilson, Joe Morgan. When we ran, there was no slowing down. We wanted guys who were hitters. We’d had a pretty good collision on the first kickoff, so on the second kickoff, Jason Reda kicked it deep like he always did, and their wedge is running at me, Rakheem and Martez. About five yards before they got to us, they showed their true colors and slowed down.

The hitting game that week was one of the reasons we won that game. After we won, I’m in the stands hugging my mom and my dad. It was eerily quiet. It was just one of those days that just got better. We started that day not knowing what our legacy would be. When you take down the No. 1 team and you’re wearing the Orange and Blue, I think you’ve earned the right to be remembered in a pretty positive light.”

J Leman: “Me and J have been friends since I was 14.

He’s consistently crazy. He’s been in love with football from the time he came out of the womb. He’s always been that guy that’s ready to go. I got to play with J on all three levels. In high school I played against him, in college I got to play with him — which was awesome — and then I got to spend some time with him with the Carolina Panthers.

J is just one of those great teammates; he’s a forever teammate for me.”

Antonio Steele: “Antonio was a rapper, so we always waited for the new track to come out.

He’s one of the nicest guys that you’ll ever meet in your life. Antonio was a little light in the britches. I think he played Will linebacker at about 210 pounds, if he was holding 10-pound plates in his pants when he weighed in.”

Is Illinois “Linebacker U”?: “In my opinion, yeah. Historically, for sure. Some other teams try to claim it, but I’d put us up against anybody. Even if I had to pad up today to prove it, I’d give it a shot.”

Illini Birthdays

Sunday: Paula Smith, golf coach

Monday: Derek Walker, football (33)

Tuesday: Jan Smid, football (86)

Wednesday: Griffin Palmer, football (22)

Thursday: Julyon Brown, football (50)

Friday: Peter Palmer, football (88)

Saturday: Martez Wilson, football (31)

By Mike Pearson, author of Illini Legends, Lists & Lore (Third Edition now available in stores). Get more Illini birthdays, trivia and historical tidbits daily on Twitter@B1GLLL. His website is www.SportsLLL.com.