Oct. 14, 2013
By Kevin Gleason
WEST POINT -- Colby Miller never considered quitting because, well, he never quit anything. He would have been excused for taking a quiet walk out of the Army football program.
It probably wouldn't even have fallen under the category of quitting
He wasn't wanted.
So Miller, a 209-pound senior linebacker, 6-foot-1 at best, listened as Army coach Rich Ellerson told him he might never step on the football field for an organized game. It was spring of his freshman year. Miller suddenly didn't have his whole career in front of him.
Miller was an Alabama kid who dreamed of playing in the Iron Bowl, the annual Auburn-Alabama showdown, until the moment he was accepted to West Point. He came here to honor his grandfather, Sam Barbaree, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, and was awarded a Bronze Star, one of the most prestigious of all military medals. He came to honor his entire family, really. He fought through a medical disqualification because of a back condition and grabbed a waiver and a flight to West Point for his official visit.
But wait. You didn't get the phone message, an Army assistant asked Miller's mom. Lisa Malloy was getting the message now. Colby's plane reservation had been canceled. Stan Brock, the coach who recruited Miller, had been fired two months earlier. The new regime was targeting different players.
Miller had his own message.
He was coming anyway.
And he was going to play Army football.
"I just kind of accepted that, you know what, I'm going to make the best of where I am,'' he said.
Miller was chatting with a few folks late Saturday afternoon inside Randall Hall, where the top performers arrive for the media following home games. He had just exploded onto the Army football scene, a 50-25 win against Eastern Michigan in the books, out of a season four years removed from that spring day when Ellerson essentially told him he wasn't good enough.
Miller didn't appear in a single game his first three seasons. He was a scout team player assigned to helping the offense prepare for opponents. Miller became the best damn scout team player he could be, mentoring teammates, pushing them, prodding them, inspiring them, doing everything he could without wearing the uniform on Saturdays.
He started moving up the depth chart this spring, flying around and leaving teammates awed by his will and his passion. He dressed for the first time in Army's season opener against Morgan State but didn't play. He played for the first time at linebacker -- one play -- in Week 3 against Stanford. He played 10 snaps at linebacker the next week against Wake Forest, five more the next week against Louisiana Tech and recorded his first of three tackles last week at Boston College.
On Saturday inside Michie Stadium, hard by Lusk Reservoir and the breathtaking colors of fall foliage, Colby Miller, the 'Bama kid accustomed to helping others, had his day. He had six tackles -- tied for the team high -- a sack and at least one violent hit that left receiver Demariuis Reed requiring medical attention.
Now he was inside the post-game news conference, right there alongside the stars of Army football, and he belonged.
All four teammates at the table enthusiastically nodded as Miller spoke. You could feel the love from Miller's Army brotherhood, the brotherhood that made it impossible for him to consider quitting, even if he were so inclined. It was fullback Larry Dixon's turn to speak.
"This is a kid that you tell stories about," he said. "This is a kid who just comes to work every day and works and works and works. He didn't always get the results he wanted, but he just comes back the next day. I compare it to trying to take a sledgehammer and break through a wall. And just, no matter what happens, the next day he's going to come in and he's going to go at the wall harder.
"And as you saw, he just broke it down."
The news conference ended and Miller was requested for extra time with the media. He said he couldn't really adequately describe the day, then did just that.
Miller talked about the honor of playing for one of the best academic institutions in the country. He talked about the influences of his family, of his grandfather. He talked about grinding through his freshman year with his grandpa sick and his football future in limbo, and talked about carrying on after Barbaree passed away Oct. 3 of that year.
Ten feet away, his mom watched with tears flowing freely. Lisa Malloy was on the other end of all those stressed-out phone calls from her boy trying to make it as an Army football player. On Saturday at Michie Stadium, West Point, he made it.
firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @th_KevinGleason