Brit Miller Reflects On Illini Season, Career

The Illini football team has struggled this year. The players and coaches are caught up in all the details, so they have trouble identifying the problems that have prevented success. Former Illini linebacker Brit Miller has a fresher perspective. He shares his thoughts on the team and all the things he misses about his college experience at the U of I.

Brit Miller starred at middle linebacker for Illinois last season. He is now playing with the San Francisco 49ers. He misses his Alma Mater.

"Most definitely. My four years of college were a wonderful experience as a whole. The comeraderie of everyone coming in the same age as you are and having the same experiences. And being in college, you can do what you want. It's a good time."

In the NFL, you spend all day every day thinking football. You are the property of the team and must conform to the demands placed on you. There is little time for anything else.

"I think I miss the academic part a little bit. I don't miss the hard work, but learning something that pertains to the world. In the NFL, we find ourselves kind of wrapped up in it.

"In college, you have kind of a safety net. While there are a lot of restrictions, there's also a lot of freedom to learn and to make a lot more decisions. That's one of the things you've got to let go in the League."

Miller was thoughtful if somewhat general when answering what he thought might have caused the Illini's downfall this season.

"There are endless answers, and everybody can say what they want. I think Coach Zook is one of those guys that cares so much about his players, that these 18, 19, 20 year old kids don't grasp how much he cares about the game and how much he knows about them. I know I didn't for awhile.

"In college, you turn children into men. There's a lot of other stuff going on. Coach Zook knows the best I think, because if you can just concentrate on football and really believe in it when you're there, then when you come back you realize it means a lot to you. If you could only think of that before you left, then football would be a lot easier game, and you'd have a lot more success.

"There's so many things in college that pull you other than the football field. And then you have a lot of guys that have NFL talent. The important thing is, they must be like warriors. If they aren't putting up a lot of wins, then their stock goes down. I tell my friends that on the team, but...I don't know."

Miller is passionate about his Illini and has tried to help.

"I've sent Coach Zook emails before. Everybody thinks they have an answer. But ultimately it comes down to the kids that are playing the game. The system has been in place, it's worked. We were in the Rose Bowl.

"It's the same people, it's the same plays, it's the same stadium, you're playing the same opponents. It's just one of those things. Football games are hard to win. If the average person knew how much effort it took, I think they'd get off the kids' backs."

He reminds that high school football players don't realize all that is involved when deciding to play in college.

"They don't know what they're signing up for. They think they are signing up to play football in college. It's too bad, but you're signing up for scrutiny. Like booing Juice Williams?

"It's understandable as far as results, but the guy is one of the hardest workers. He does school, football and everything else. It would be better if you knew your crowd had your back. Anyone who's played with him has his back because they know that football is hard to win. And once you've been there four years, people start figuring you out as well."

Psychology plays a big role in all sports. Miller reminds how emotional losses can affect future games.

"Coming out against Missouri and kind of taking a whuppin, that didn't help everybody's psyche. You want to have a big year, you have a lot of seniors, and that takes a lot of wind out of your sails. It becomes difficult from a coaching standpoint.

"And then you come back and get on a little bit of a roll, win a couple games, and then you drop another one. Coach (Dan) Disch when I was there said that was like a death from a thousand paper cuts. There were very little mistakes, but they all add up. That's how we lost games this year, and that's how we lost last year."

Miller experienced both extremes in college. In his four years, the Illini records were 2-9, 2-10, 9-4 and 5-7. He realizes there are intangibles that allow teams to get on positive rolls. Without them, the opposite occurs.

"In the Rose Bowl season, we look back and everything was fine and dandy. But we caught a lot of breaks. Good football teams do that, and it will remain true until the end of time that good football teams will catch breaks. We didn't get those this year."

There was a special feeling within the 2007 team. They won some games early, saw breaks going their way, and began to feel invincible.

"Exactly. Of course, when you have a special guy like Rashard Mendenhall, it makes it easier. The coaches try to make you do so much together, you kind of develop that friendship to be around each other. There's something about it."

Coaches try to develop team chemistry every year. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. It worked in 2007.

"The way things worked on the Rose Bowl team, it brought the team together. I remember Justin Harrison did some drawings of the players and who they looked like. You know, like Beetlejuice on the Howard Stern show. Just making fun of it. Everyone would come to the board every day and just laugh, and it carried over to the practices and to the games.

"No, you can't develop that every year. I don't think it's tough to get 11 guys to have one common goal. But it's tough to get all these kids to have the same goal.

"Everyone wants to go to the Rose Bowl. They want something out of it. They want to play well on Saturday and be recognized. They want to go to the next level. If those goals aren't being accomplished, they need to look for other goals they can accomplish. It's human nature. But if you believe in the same things, that's when it happens."

Miller was disappointed winning couldn't be sustained in 2008. There were several seniors on that team who are now playing pro ball, but they couldn't recreate the unity of purpose found in 2007. Still, Miller is proud of his classmates now in the pros.

"I talked to D Walk (Derek Walker) the other day. He's doing good. I've seen Ryan McDonald with the Chargers. Will Davis, I talked to him. You watch film on everybody, so he's doing good.

"And I talk to Vernon (Davis) every day about Vontae (Davis, Vernon's brother), he's always talking him up. We had a pretty good class, for this many of us to last this long and do as well as they are."

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