Move to receiver pays off for JMU’s Miller

JMU's John Miller celebrates after a play against Morehead State in last year's season opener on Sept. 3. Miller is one of several players vying for the starting receiver role this season. Courtesy photo/JMU Athletics Communications

HARRISONBURG — John Miller came to James Madison University as a running back, but after his freshman season he was moved to wide receiver. The move has paid off for both Miller and the Dukes.

The redshirt senior said he wasn’t surprised when then-head coach Everett Withers asked him to switch positions after his freshman year.

“I knew I could play receiver,” Miller said Saturday at JMU’s media day. “My brother played receiver in high school. My uncle was actually a wide receiver coach. So it wasn’t really anything new to me. I knew I could go out there and play receiver. I knew I could catch and run. It wasn’t that big of change for me.”

Miller’s impact at receiver was felt in his sophomore season. He played in 11 games and started two at slot receiver.

Perhaps the biggest play he made all season came on the road against Southern Methodist University. With the Dukes trailing 45-41 in the final seconds of the game, Miller caught a pass from quarterback Vad Lee for the game-winning touchdown.

“I remember it like it happened yesterday,” Miller said with a smile of the touchdown. “It’s something I’ll never forget. It’s something I’ll tell my kids about. It was just a great experience. I didn’t even think I was going to play that game. It was all a shock to me.”

As a sophomore, Miller finished with 17 receptions for 162 yards and two scores. He also had four kickoff returns for 27 yards and 15 punt returns for 145 yards.

Last year Miller played in 13 games and had three starts. He finished the season with 26 receptions for 265 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran the ball 17 times for 94 yards and also had six punt returns for 134 yards and a touchdown.

“John is a really, really solid player,” JMU head coach Mike Houston said. “I think that he does a great job in any position that we put him in, whether it’s returning punts, covering kickoffs or playing in the slot. He’s really a complete player. He’s just as good a player without the ball as he is with the ball.”

Miller has played well in big games for the Dukes. Last year in the Football Championship Subdivision national semifinals against North Dakota State, Miller had a career-long 45-yard reception and 70 receiving yards total in the win.

In his first three seasons, Miller only made three starts, but he said he’s happy to come off the bench and contribute. Miller said he just wants to do whatever the team needs him to do to win.

The Dukes lost three starting receivers to graduation and senior Terrence Alls is suspended for the first five games of the season.

Miller, who Houston has named the team’s starting punt returner, will be counted on to help lead the receiving core. Miller said he just wants to help lead the team like last year’s starting receivers did.

“Branden (Ravenel), Domo (Taylor) Rashard (Davis) –they were all great players, even better people,” Miller said. “Those are great players. I feel like even more importantly I want to become the leader that they were, help pick up the team and lead the team. I don’t feel like I’m replacing them. I’m just helping carry on their legacy.”

Miller, who is from Columbia, South Carolina, said he originally committed to play at the University of Richmond. However, things changed after Withers was hired to replace longtime JMU head coach Mickey Matthews. Miller said he was recruited by JMU, and after talking with his family decided to come to JMU instead.

He said it’s a decision he’s happy he made. Miller said it’s been a fun and wild journey the last few years.

“It’s been crazy,” Miller said. “It’s been a lot of ups and downs with the whole coaching staff change and then the next year we win the national championship. It’s been a long and fun ride. It’s going by so fast, but I’m blessed to be with these coaches, my teammates and everybody around me. Blessed with this university. I couldn’t have made a better decision.”