Illini of the Week: Gary Miller

Erica Magda

Erica Magda

By Kevin Olsen

Two weeks into the outdoor season, and already Gary Miller is making a name for himself on the track and field team.

Miller is coming off two event victories last weekend at the SEMO Relays in Cape Girardeau, Mo., and head coach Wayne Angel feels Miller can be one of the guys he can count on to bring the Illini back to elite status.

The transfer from Barton County Community College in Great Bend, Kan., won the 400-meter hurdles in his first time ever competing in the event with a time of 53.34 seconds. He was also a part of the victorious 4×400 relay team that hit a NCAA regional qualifying mark with a time of 3 minutes, 9.65 seconds.

“This weekend was a warm day, a good track, a good crowd and it all came together,” Miller said.

With usual running mate Gakologelwang Masheto, who placed fourth at nationals last year in the 400 meters, sidelined with a stress fracture in his foot, the team of Miller, Brandon Gray, Dan Jones and Yawusa Kinda picked up the slack in the absence of the All-American. For Miller, the qualifying performance was truly a team effort.

“Our freshman Dan Jones was phenomenal,” Miller said. “He caught the second place, got the first place guy and handed it to me and I extended the lead, and I gave it to Ya and he brought it home.”

The junior thinks the relay team can get its time down to 3:07 before Masheto returns from injury. But the exciting part of the season may lie in how well Miller can perform in the 400-meter hurdles. Miller’s height and strength have molded him into a perfect candidate to breakout in his first outdoor season at Illinois.

“The coaches said I could do it,” Miller said about running in the 400-meter hurdles. “At first I was a little hesitant to do it … but my teammates encouraged me so much during the race and before the race. It was a great experience, I know what to do now and how to excel in it.”

For the remainder of the season, Miller plans on competing in the 4×400 and 4×800 relays along with the 400 hurdles. Miller could potentially add another regional qualifying mark in hurdles this weekend at Tennessee. He thinks he has a realistic chance of recording top-five finishes in both hurdles and the 4×400 relay at nationals.

“I’m very pleased with his performance in the 400-meter hurdles,” Angel said. “He’s still learning the event and it’s very early in the game. He’s still learning the rhythm, he’s learning the steps and the confidence level. Each week as he goes, he’s going to get better. By Big Ten, he should run about 51 (seconds) and then at regionals, 50.”

Miller acknowledged the jump to Division I has been challenging, but is fortunate to have “two potential Olympians (that) make you that much better every day.” He has been very appreciative of all the support he has received since arriving at Illinois, including the academic staff, medical staff and his coaches, for making the transition easier. It also helps that he is starting his outdoor career at Illinois alongside fellow transfers Gray and Kinda.

Miller’s strides on the track may become even more evident this weekend at the Sea Ray Relays in Knoxville, Tenn., where he will look to start fulfilling Angel’s prophecy.

“He has an opportunity to be probably one of the better intermediate hurdlers in the history of Illinois,” Angel said. “You look at what his best opportunities are and between the 800 (meters) and 400-meter hurdles, I think he could be an outstanding 800-meter runner. But he seems to be excited and passionate about the 400-meter hurdles, so we’re going to give it a try there.”