Former Illinois middle linebacker Brit Miller signed on as a free agent with the Carolina Panthers professional team after leading the Illini in tackles and usable quotes. He thought he saw a chance at Carolina for a 6'-0" linebacker. Unfortunately, he was cut before the preseason.
"At the time with Carolina, a couple of their guys got injured," Miller remembers. "And we saw their defense was something I was comfortable in as far as being 4-3. I'd done it before, so you take that into account. That helped with the big learning curve.
"Overall, I had a great experience out there. I kind of learned to deal with that defeat. I'm glad it happened the way it did. I had a great summer there, but at the same time it didn't work out football-wise."
Fortunately, a San Francisco 49ers scout had seen him at the Illinois Pro Timing Day last spring and tried him out at fullback.
"Yeah, and he was one of the last guys to talk to me as well. We had a good 45 minute conversation about the whole process. They explained what they were doing, and at that point in time you have a lot of questions, like what do I have to do to make it at that level. Their scout was good at explaining what you're looking for."
So Miller was eager to accept the challenge of playing fullback when the 49ers picked him up.
"I think I've found a home here as far as being able to compete and the possibility of being here for awhile."
Miller made a big splash in his first exhibition game. In mop up duty, he raced for two touchdowns. His family was excited to see their beloved do so well on national television.
"I think the best compliment I got out of the deal, people were loving it, but I talked to my aunt, my mom's oldest sister, and she said, 'Thank you. The excitement on your parents' faces when you scored those two touchdowns was priceless.' That shows you how much enjoyment the game can really bring to you.
"It was also fun to go to practice the next day. The first time I scored was the second play of my career at fullback, I think, and my coach told me I lined up wrong. He said I was about 6 inches off my mark. But the more I learn, the more I learn those details can make a big difference."
The Decatur Eisenhower product has a mentor in a former star 49er fullback. He feels he is in a good situation."
"Fullback's one of those deals where I think I am good enough to play at this level. I'm getting a chance to work with Tom Rathman. He's incredible yet talented in teaching ways. He teaches me to be perfect. Since I have no background as a fullback, I have no bad habits."
Miller hasn't given up on linebacker. In fact, his scout team work keeps him extremely busy, performing at fullback, linebacker and on special teams.
"I'm one of the few guys that play both ways. I take just about every rep in practice. It helps the team alot."
San Francisco head coach Mike Singletary was a height-impaired linebacker with the Chicago Bears, so Miller is hopeful Singletary's empathy with short linebackers will give him a shot at that position.
"Coach Singletary is my coach, and he was one of those guys they told was undersized. And he was one of the greats."
But unless something changes, Miller will stay at fullback.
"So far, it hasn't worked out at linebacker. Once in awhile I go against our offense as a linebacker on the scout team, but I really work out at fullback every day. When someone like Tom Rathman says you're doing a good job, that's what you work for."
While his height may be a hindrance at linebacker, it is an asset at fullback.
"The more people talk about needing tall linebackers, it cracks me up because all that means is I've got better leverage than them. If you're a linebacker at 6'-4" and I'm 6'-0", I'm gonna get on your chin. And you're not gonna do anything about it because you can't get that low. You're not gonna play as well as I can play. I take pride in the fact I win those battles."
Miller had no background with sophisticated pro offenses, so it has taken awhile to learn. He now thinks he can help the team if activated.
"I think if I had to play early in the year, I would have been ready. But I'm learning more and more. Today I could play."
Does he have a long-term future in the bay area?
"It's tough to tell. I think anybody that's involved with this league tells you that your future's not certain. I definitely think there are some things they like in me.
"Early on, our GM told me, 'Brit, there aren't a lot of good fullbacks in college these days.' You can't find them, you have to make them. So when they saw me at linebacker, they saw I would hit anything and ran fast.
"I think I showed them that, scoring two touchdowns, long distance touchdowns, and the work I do on special teams for them. I'm always downfield to cover first. I take pride in that every week, and I get a little recognition now and then. I was scout team player of the week three times. I'm trying to work on my football skills."
Miller always joked about his belly at Illinois. No matter how hard he said he worked, or how fast he played, he always looked out of shape. He realizes now the importance of taking care of himself every day of his life. He is now more fit and trim than ever before.
"Now that I'm here, I realize you really have to take care of your body. You really have to pay attention. You have to play the game as far as doing what the coaches want you to do. I don't know what else to do, but the ones who don't take care of themselves, I can see they struggle a little bit."
Miller loves football. If he can stick with a team, any team, he can create a long-term career for himself. He is enjoying the process.
"The future is refreshing in that the more you compete, the more you know as a football player."
In part two of this interview, Miller discusses how much he misses Illinois and offers thoughts on what might have happened to the team this season.