Auburn, Ala.--Rushing for nearly 3,000 career yards and scoring 52 touchdowns despite missing the second half of his senior season, freshman running back Malik Miller is used to competing for Kerryon Johnson for playing time. Sharing the load with his teammate at Madison Academy until last fall, the 6-0, 225 Miller is now a player the Auburn Tigers could be counting on to provide some carries at running back this fall with the loss of Jovon Robinson.
"That was the sign that I had to step up," Miller said. "There's no time to wait around like when I was a freshman, I have to help the team right now."
That's not something that Miller said would have been possible in the spring. Coming off a knee injury last season at Madison Academy, Miller struggled with the speed of the game while also trying to get back to full strength. While it made the spring tough at times, the freshman said in the long run it has given him a chance to play this fall because of what he learned.
"I needed that learning curve coming from high school to college," Miller said. "This was like my pre-test to see what I was good at and see what I needed to work on. When I came into fall camp, I was more confident with myself and comfortable with the offense."
That improvement hasn't been lost on his coaches as both position Coach Tim Horton and Gus Malzahn have seen Miller take things up a notch.
"Malik has been one of or more improved guys from spring to fall," Malzahn said. "He's leaner. He is faster. The physical part of the game, he enjoys, and that's always important for young guys. He'll be in the mix for helping us on special teams and he's getting more and more comfortable playing the tailback position."
Now ready to potentially share some of the load at running back with Johnson once again, Miller said he's just looking forward to doing his part this season. If that means he's called on to get some touches then the big back said watching his good friend do the same thing as a true freshman last season lets him know he can get the job done.
“Definitely, because I went from playing right next to the guy to seeing him on TV, coming in a true freshman and making plays," Miller said of Johnson. "I was just kind of like, ‘Hey, I was with that guy. Me and him played together. We both made plays on this level. I can come in and do the same things he did.’”
Now less than two weeks until Auburn takes on No. 2 Clemson to open the season, Miller said he's just focused on doing his job and showing everyone he's capable of getting the job done for the Tigers.
“I’m a freshman in college," Miller said. "This is Auburn. It’s a great university. I’m just trying to show people that, hey, I belong here.”