Miller playing football the old-fashioned way

Illinois linebacker Brit Miller tackles Wisconsin´s Brian Calhoun during the first half of the game on Oct. 28 at Memorial Stadium. Daily Illini File Photo

Illinois linebacker Brit Miller tackles Wisconsin´s Brian Calhoun during the first half of the game on Oct. 28 at Memorial Stadium. Daily Illini File Photo

By Derek Barichello

Illinois linebacker Brit Miller is old school. He is a gym rat. He likes hard-hitting, smash mouth football. He prefers natural grass compared to artificial turf. And he understands the way the game is supposed to be played.

“He’s a tough guy,” head coach Ron Zook said. “When he leaves the field, he is always smiling.”

Miller had his best game of the season at Ohio State, since stepping into the middle linebacker role on Oct. 22. He recorded 11 tackles and received compliments from defensive coordinator Mike Mallory and Ohio State players after the game.

But the biggest eye he has caught has been Zook’s.

“I like the way he attacks the game,” Zook said. “You like watching the guy. Every day he gets more comfortable. He enjoys practice. Those are the kind of guys you want to have out there.”

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It was against Indiana on Oct. 8 when he first caught Zook’s eye.

After making a tackle on punt coverage, Miller searched Zook out to tell him he left his lane and that he understood he made a mistake.

“I wanted to let him know that I knew,” Miller said. “Earlier in the year, I was out there and I really didn’t know what I was doing.”

After that Zook knew Miller had what it took to be a middle linebacker in the Big Ten.

“It showed me he had football savvy and understood the game,” Zook said.

After that play, Miller was given an opportunity to shine. He got his first start against Penn State and finished the game with three tackles, one for a loss. And then in the next game against Wisconsin, he improved, notching eight tackles, with 1.5 for loss.

“He just gets better and better,” Zook said. “He’s going to be a guy, down the road, who’s going to continue to get better and better every game. Every time he steps on the field he gets better. When he goes to practice he gets better.”

Miller continues to improve because he is passionate about the game. Zook said every time he goes into outside linebacker’s coach Dan Disch’s office, Miller is in there talking football.

“He is a student of the game,” Zook said. “(Coach Disch) is always in there with Brit. But that’s good because he wants to learn, and he wants to get better.”

Talking football is nothing new to Miller. A Decatur, Ill. native, Miller played quarterback in high school and talked football with his father, who also played quarterback, after each of his games.

“We always talk about being aggressive and hitting people,” Miller said.

Miller’s father got him into football in third grade. At first, Miller did not like football because of the running in practice.

“Then after I got into that first game, I loved it ever since,” Miller said.

Football has always been in his genes. Not only did his father play, but so did his uncles; one of them played at Millikin University. His mother and aunts were cheerleaders and he said his grandparents love football, too.

It has been a dream for Miller, who is the first Division-I player from his family, although he said the success has not sunk in yet.

“It all happens so fast here,” Miller said. “It’s non-stop. Whenever the season gets over, I think I will finally realize the amount of work I put in.”

Since Miller is only in his first year at Illinois, Zook is hopeful of what Miller can do in the future.

“Any time you have a true freshmen starting at linebacker in the Big Ten, you are going to see the guy steadily improve,” Zook said. “He has a lot of football left to play at the University of Illinois.”