Justin Miller: Decision Time

CLEMSON – When No. 9 takes to the field Saturday at noon, it could be the final time Clemson fans everywhere get a chance to watch Justin Miller wear a tiger paw on his helmet. <BR>

With several draft scouting services ranking Miller as one of the top five cornerbacks in nation and most likely a first-round draft choice, the junior is going to have a decision to make fairly soon on whether or not to return for his senior season and play for the Tigers.

With the way Miller, who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 180-pounds, has come on with his defensive play in the second half of the season, as well as the way he's been spectacular on special teams all year, his stock has soared.

Moreover, he is one of 12 finalists for the Jim Thorpe Award, given annually the nation's top defensive back.

One scouting service had this to say: "Miller has NFL scouts buzzing for several reasons. Not only is Miller a shutdown cornerback with excellent size but he is also a game breaking return specialist that has averaged more then 33-yards per kick return and 14-yards per punt return, bringing three back for touchdowns. The chatter is starting that Miller will leave Clemson and enter next April's draft."

"I really haven't much thought about it," said Miller, a native of Owensboro, KY. "My main goal right now is to finish the season. We have a large task ahead of us this weekend and hopefully we can win and get to a bowl. That's my main goal now."

If Miller has thought about it leaving for the draft, he hasn't told his teammates, and in particular his cohorts in the secondary. To a man, they've said they don't know what Miller is going to do and that he doesn't talk about it.

"A lot of people have projections and everything, but you really can't count on them to be accurate," Miller said. "You have to talk to the (general managers), owners and the people with the teams."

Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said he would sit down and discuss the situation with Miller at the end of the season. Tigers defensive coordinator John Lovett said the same thing.

The main thing Lovett is concerned about is making sure what happened to former Tigers wide receiver Derek Hamilton last year doesn't happen to Miller this year.

Against the advice of several folks, Hamilton left Clemson after his junior season and wasn't taken until the third round of the NFL Draft, which cost him millions of dollars. Most believed had he stayed for this season, he would have been taken higher because the wide receiving corps across the country isn't nearly as strong this year as it was last year.

Even worse is the fact that Hamilton has yet to touch the ball this year for the 49ers, be it on special teams or on offense. As Bowden once said, he's basically being redshirted.

"Where are you in relation to those guys that are out there (at your position) and available, that's what, to me, will determine whether he should go or not," Lovett said. "Derek Hamilton, last year, he might have been a good player, but with the group of guys that went out last year, it probably wasn't in his best interest to leave at the time, just because there were so many really good guys. Timing is also very important. You've got to find out all the information before you make a decision like that."

Miller said there really is no timetable set for when he'll make up his mind about his future. He's said when it hits him, he'll know it.

"I don't know," he said. "I guess whenever I feel like it's time or when I wake up one morning and feel like making a decision. That's when I'll know what I'm doing."

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