High Expecations Surround Miller Again

It was just two years ago that freshman Justin Miller burst onto the scene with a school record 8 interceptions. But now entering his junior year, the Kentucky native has his work cut out for him, especially if he's going to live up to the expecations placed on his shoulders after that sensational season.

A native of Owensboro, Kentucky, it was considered nothing less than a small coup when the Tigers were able to sign wide receiver/defensive back Justin Miller away from the Florida Gators in 2002.

Even with a graduate assistant responsible for a majority of Miller's recruitment to Clemson, the Tigers were able to land one of the most sought after athletes in the southeast.

And once he arrived on campus, there was little doubt that he was ready to make an immediate impact.

Looking back, perhaps no one could truly understand the type of year Justin Miller was in for at the start of the 2002 season.

All he did was lead all freshmen nationally in interceptions with eight. All he did was set a single season record on kickoff returns by averaging 35.1 yards/return. All he did was finish second in the balloting for ACC Rookie-of-the-Year and he was also named as a Second-Team All-ACC performer according to the ACC Sportswriters Association.

It was a good year all right, and he did all of that with only 7 starts under his belt.

So what happened last season? How come the former potential All-American cornerback suddenly seemed to struggle with his game?

It started in the season opener against Georgia when the Bulldogs' David Greene set the tone for the afternoon, and perhaps the season, by connecting with Fred Gibsonfor a 56-yard touchdown.

The responsibility of that play fell directly on the shoulders of Miller, who bit hard on a play-action fake.

Miller finished 2nd in the ACC in passes defended last year with 15.
To make matters worse, several Bulldog players suggested after the game that once they lined up in that particular formation, they knew that a touchdown was in order simply because Gibson and Greene would take advantage of Miller's aggressive style on play-action.

Miller would go on to have a season that most corners would be proud of with 15 passes defended, ranking second in the ACC, and 54 total tackles, 45 of which were first hits, but it was nothing like 2002.

Thoughts of becoming a top 10 draft pick quickly faded as Miller's production level and confidence seemingly dropped through the course of the season.

"My sophomore year could have gone either way really, it could have been bad, or it could have been good," said Miller. "I'm not frustrated with how my season went or anything, I played well and did the things I was supposed to do. I made plays when we needed it, so I feel good about this year and good about the team."

After becoming more consistent in his play through the second half of the 2003 season, it's not unreasonable to suggest that Miller could be in store for another breakout year.

He was named to the All-Bowl team by Sports Illustrated for his play in Clemson's 27-13 over Tennessee in the Peach Bowl, and he also had an interception and a punt return for a touchdown against Duke near the end of the year.

This season, expectations are high once again for Justin Miller. And with two years of experience behind him, the junior corner is clearly focused on thing, and one thing only: execution.

"I have to execute at all times and be ready to make the big play when I get the opportunity," said Miller. "I can't be lackadaisical about anything when I'm on the field. The main thing I have to do is just be ready, follow my assignments and the big plays will take care of themselves."

According to defensive coordinator John Lovett, that intense focus has already been noted by the Clemson coaching staff this offseason.

"He was very focused," Lovett said of Miller's progression since the Peach Bowl. "He's had a great offseason and worked out very well. He's also got his weight under control.

"I think Justin Miller will far surpass what he did as a freshman," added Lovett. "He knows where he wants to go and knows what direction he wants to go in. I expect him to play very well for us this year."

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