Snapshot: Heath Miller

<b>PITTSBURGH -</b> Heath Miller met the Pittsburgh media yesterday and went through his reads like the classic All-American kid. <br>

He "couldn't be more honored to be a part of this" and wants "to be able to be a good blocker" because "what they're doing here is pretty good. They were 15-1 last year and they ran the football a whole lot."

Heath Miller said all the right things, none of it forced.

Pittsburgh has seen this act before. Or more accurately, Pittsburgh's grandfather has. Miller is the second player the Steelers have plucked out of the University of Virginia in the first round. In 1942, they drafted future Hall of Famer "Bullet" Bill Dudley.

In a three-season stint in Pittsburgh that was interrupted by service in World War II, Dudley became a favorite of "The Chief," founder Art Rooney.

Dudley was the first real star of the Steelers, and it all started in Bluefield, a small town in southwest Virginia, just south of the southernmost tip of West Virginia.

Some 46 miles to the west of Bluefield is Swords Creek, where Miller grew up with his younger sister. They were raised by mother Denise, who works at nearby Southwest Virginia Community College, and father Earl, who builds houses.

"I worked a little bit with him," Miller said of his father. "He would only let me sweep the sawdust and carry the scrap wood, so that wasn't too fun. But, yeah, when I wasn't training for football I helped him out a little."

Miller played quarterback, power forward and first base at Honaker High School. He was one of approximately 100 seniors and 400 total students, and he carried all of them to the school's first appearance in the football state title game in 2000.

In a town of 2,407 people, Honaker was a Division Two school in the six-level Virginia scholastic league.

"A lot of people always showed up on Friday nights. It was kind of a big thing to do, so it was exciting being a part of that," Miller said.

Miller was the toast of the Swords Creek and nearby Honaker, whose mayor, C.H. Wallace, told The Washington Post: "He's the pride and joy of our community."

The pride and joy went to the University of Virginia and became the first two-time all-ACC tight end since former Steelers tight end Bennie Cunningham.

In three seasons, Miller made 144 catches for 1,703 yards and 20 touchdowns. Miller was honored as the nation's best tight end last year by winning the Mackey Award, the first major honor won by a football player at UVA since 1941. That was the year Dudley won the Maxwell Award as the nation's most outstanding player.

Dudley was selected first in the 1942 draft by the Steelers. He led the NFL in rushing with 604 yards and was named to the All-League team. He then served two years in the army and came back to win the rushing title again in 1946 with 604 yards. His 10 interceptions also led the league and he was named the NFL's Most Valuable Player.

Dudley's Steelers career came to an abrupt end that season after a disagreement with coach Jock Sutherland. Dudley demanded a trade before the 1947 season, but in spite of the acrimony he remained close to Rooney, who named a horse after Dudley and, before the 1970s, routinely called him the franchise's greatest player.

Can history come full circle with the 6-foot-5, 256-pound tight end with the same humble and gentlemanly demeanor?

"It's a place with a lot of history, a lot of tradition, a great group of owners," said Miller. "I couldn't be more honored to be a part of this."

Wearing a light gray suit at his first public appearance in town, Miller also wore a striped shirt with a striped tie, the fashion these days. But in every other way, Miller came off as the old-fashioned All-American boy out of the coal fields of the Appalachian Mountains.

"I realize that football's a big deal here and I'm going to enjoy that," he said. "I'm glad I'm in a town that really follows football, and are big fans of football like Steelers fans are. I'm anxious to go out and perform and hopefully please you guys with my performance."


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