Athlete of the Week: Rams’ Miller breaks out for career rushing night

Austin Miller

STRASBURG – Strasburg High School’s football team had struggled to maintain a consistent running game for most of the last month, to the point where senior tailback Austin Miller started to feel a bit frustrated about his lack of production, he said on Tuesday afternoon.

Miller wasn’t having trouble finding the end zone – he’s scored multiple rushing touchdowns in all but two of Strasburg’s eight games this season – but entering last week’s home game against Nelson County, the senior hadn’t eclipsed 100 yards in four straight weeks.

The Rams found the cure for whatever was ailing their run game against Nelson, as Miller broke out for 224 yards and four touchdowns in Strasburg’s 50-34 non-district victory.

“I think it’s important for us as a team for him to get back on track,” Rams head coach Mark Roller said of Miller, a two-way star who is in his second season as Strasburg’s starting running back. “On a personal note for him it was good for him to kind of get back to breaking off some big runs. I think in the long run for us as a team it was a morale booster because we haven’t been able to do that the last couple games.”

Miller’s yardage – which came on 17 carries – was a career-high, and his four TDs matched the personal-best he put up in a win over Rappahannock County earlier this season.

Though Miller had scored two touchdowns each in Strasburg’s three previous games entering last week, his rushing yardage total against Nelson nearly matched his output (239 yards) during that same span.

Against the Governors, Miller – The Northern Virginia Daily’s Athlete of the Week for Oct. 16-22 – averaged 13.2 yards per carry and scored two touchdowns of over 42 yards.

“The linemen, they were just holding their blocks a little bit longer than they were and I was seeing cutback holes a lot more,” Miller said. “I was running harder than I have been all season, I think, more than anything. I think I just saw everything a lot better Friday night than I have been.”

Miller, who said he also had a touchdown run of about 60 yards called back by a penalty, saved his biggest scoring runs of the game for the second half to help blow the game open.

With the Rams holding a 30-27 lead, Miller broke off a 52-yard scoring run in the third quarter, which he followed with a 42-yard touchdown run that put Strasburg up 44-27 with 3:51 left in the frame.

“We were running a zone, I think, and the ends just crashed really hard and I just saw the hole wide open. And then their one safety came up and … I tried to cut in real quick, he kind of got wobbly and I remember just throwing a stiff arm on him. It was the dirtiest stiff arm I think I’ve ever (done). I mean I threw him down pretty good, it was one of those powerful stiff arms,” Miller said of his 42-yard run, the last of the night for the senior.

“That was probably the one I remember the most just because watching the film you hear the people in the crowd just go, ‘Ooh!’ I thought that was cool.”

Strasburg as a team rushed for 306 yards in the victory, and Roller said the Rams were able to spread Nelson County’s defense out with a sound passing game (Dylan Hamrick threw for 201 yards and two touchdowns) while being more aggressive than they had been in their rushing attack.

Roller added that the Rams were able to “fine-tune” some things on offense in what was the team’s second full game without starting fullback Tyjone Carter, who went down with an injury against George Mason on Oct. 6.

“We’re starting to get some things done,” Roller said. “It was a good week for us to be able to do some of the things we did.”

Miller said Strasburg’s offense changes a “great deal” without the 5-foot-9, 260-pound Carter paving the way for Miller. In Carter’s absence, juniors Greg Mason and Brody Tomblin – both listed at 165 pounds – have filled in at fullback, Roller said.

“Greg, I mean he gets in the way and he does his job perfectly just like Ty, but Ty would plow through someone and then he’d be able to move to the next person,” said Miller, who eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards for the season last week and leads the area with 18 rushing touchdowns.

“But we’ve definitely overcome his injury and we’ve moved on,” Miller added, “and Greg’s definitely stepped up a lot.”

The Rams will aim to keep Miller and the running game rolling this Friday against Madison County, which has allowed over 700 yards rushing over the last two weeks.

“(The run game and pass game) benefit each other and to be able to have Austin get … back into a groove there benefits us as a whole,” Roller said. “I think if we can continue to do that going into Madison this week, that’s a portion of what we wanna do is try to run it and get as many yards as we can there with him.”