Former Ute defensive lineman looks to teammates for one final assist

Published: Friday, Dec. 13 2013 8:05 p.m. MST

“One of the coolest things about this man is that he is by far one of the most charismatic people you’ll ever meet,” said his best friend since high school Jay Wolf. “He can walk in a room, not know anyone, and when he leaves, everyone is his best friend.”

The two met at Federal Way High School near Seattle when Wolf’s sister convinced Miller to beat up her brother. Miller befriended Wolf instead, and the two were inseparable after that.

“That’s my brother,” he said, smiling at Miller, who is taking jabs at him as he tells the story of their friendship.

Miller wanted to come to Utah out of high school because his older brother, Ed Miller, was playing for the Utes. Because he didn’t qualify academically, McBride encouraged Miller to play at Eastern Arizona and earn his associate degree.

After playing both receiver and linebacker at the junior college, he accepted a scholarship to play at Utah in 1992. That’s the year he also met Oliver, whom he married the following summer — July 6, 1993. He redshirted his first season at Utah, followed by a successful two years on Utah’s defensive line.

He and defensive tackle Luther Ellis, who was drafted in the first round by Detroit the same year Miller was drafted in the seventh round, were key members of a defense that was ranked No. 1 for a few weeks in 1994. The offense was led by current San Diego Chargers head coach Mike McCoy, and the season saw them finish ranked eighth in the coaches poll.

It was during the 1994 season that Utah beat BYU for the second straight year with the now famous 34-31 score, and it became the foundation of a new era for Utah football that eventually led to the formation of the Mountain West Conference and an invitation to the Pac-12 three years ago.

“It was a special season,” Miller said.

So special, in fact, that when Farmington resident and U. of U. grad Joel Reeder saw Miller’s 1994 jersey for sale at a “property redistribution” sale 17 years ago, he bought it. He paid just $4 for it and the jersey, which still bears the tape marks on the white numbers where Miller rolled it up just as his fellow linemen did that season.

Thursday afternoon, he made the trip to Oliver’s West Jordan home to give Miller the jersey.

“I’ve never seen jerseys for sale there again,” he said. “I just looked for my favorite players. I knew Bronzell led the WAC in sacks that year.”

Miller’s and Oliver’s youngest son, Elijah, 16, slips the jersey over his head and admires how well it fits his 6-foot-4 frame as his father watches with a smile. Oliver thanks Reeder, who simply said that after reading about Miller’s battle with cancer, he thought the family should have the jersey from that special season.

He isn’t the only visitor to come bearing gifts. Every day is filled with visits from former teammates, coaches and friends. They bring memorabilia that Miller’s children will treasure, as well as gear and gifts from the current team.

Every item prompts stories and smiles from Miller.

They talk about the games they played, the evolution of the program, their good times, their heartbreak. The one thing the old friends don’t discuss is death.

Miller is alternately accepting and in denial about the cancer that is ravaging his once healthy body.

This all started went Miller to the hospital on July 3, 2010, with what he thought were kidney stones. Instead, doctors told him he had lesions on his spine and would need chemotherapy.

The disease went into remission briefly, but came back with a vengeance in December 2011. Since his diagnosis, Miller has tried just about anything he can to fight the disease. In addition to chemotherapy, he’s had bone marrow transplants and stem cell treatments, and he’s also participated in several medical studies at the Froedtart Medical College in Wisconsin where he lived from 2000 until Thanksgiving weekend of this year.

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