Malik Miller’s mother Shaterra was initially reluctant to let her sons — Malik and his older brother Lemeco (named after his father) — play football.
“I signed them up and figured we would work out the rest later,” his father Lemeco Miller said with a laugh.
The matriarch of the Miller family didn’t have a hard time coming around after seeing how gifted her sons were on the field.
Malik’s first team didn’t win a game the season before he signed up then won a county championship in his first year.
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“Malik just wanted to be given an opportunity,” Lemeco Miller said. “She realized it was his sport.”
Malik propelled his middle school team to a similar turnaround. The Riverton Wolves eighth grade team scored two touchdowns with Miller waiting in the wings. He played on the team as a seventh grader and scored 18 touchdowns.
“He averaged four touchdowns in the first half,” Lemeco Miller said. “He was always more physical, confident and mature than the other kids his age.”
It helped that Malik’s brother, who went on to play at Cumberland University (a NAIA school in Tennessee), brought a collegiate work ethic back home from his first year at school to help workout with Malik.
“He was always following his older brother around,” Lemeco Miller said. “His brother helped him lose that baby fat and showed him what a college regiment looked like.”
Malik Miller’s high school coach doesn’t see why he can’t have a similar impact at the FBS level.
“Malik is a great combo of power and quickness,” Madison Academy coach Eric Cohu said. “He’s a big powerful back, but is very quick and tough to tackle. He’s a hard-nosed runner. A different style of runner than I think people are used to seeing.”
Cohu sees Miller fitting in well playing for a coach who values versatile offensive players.
“He’s got great hands,” Cohu said. “We threw him lots of screens and put him on the outside to get mismatches against linebackers.”
Malik Miller’s high school career didn’t have the dream ending he pictured.
Miller wasn’t able to join his teammates on their playoff run this season. The 6-foot-0, 210-pound back was sidelined with a partially torn MCL as Madison Academy lost 35-21 to Piedmont in the AISA Class 3A quarterfinals.
The loss ended a run of three straight state titles for the Mustangs.
“No question we could have used him,” Madison Academy coach Eric Cohu said. “He had high hopes going into the season and was stellar from a statistics standpoint. Every game he did play was outstanding, but he missed several weeks early in the year with a deep thigh bruise then missed the end of the season with a slight meniscus tear.”
As one of Auburn’s nine early enrollees, Miller didn’t get much time to dwell over his disappointment.
“I told him not to have any regrets,” his father Lemeco Miller said. “He was at home this weekend and he’s happy. His classes and physical testing (at Auburn) are all going well.”
Miller leaves an impressive legacy behind at Madison Academy with 4,500-plus yards and 70 total touchdowns, but he’s ready to establish himself on an even bigger stage.
“There’s going to be a learning curve, but getting there in the spring will help him get ahead of the game,” Cohu said. “He’s going to have that extra time with the coaching staff and his teammates. He’s healed up and ready to roll.”
Coaches around the country might be trying to outdo each other in the recruiting world by visiting prospects in big-wheelers and helicopters, but Lemeco Miller describes a much more relaxed recruiting process for his son.
“We stayed away from a lot of stuff to be honest with you,” Miller said. “Over the summer, it was more important to Malik to spend time with his family and his brother than do a lot of that recruiting stuff (camps). I think he had a bit of a lower profile.”
Malik Miller’s talent was enough for him to draw interest from top power five schools including Auburn, Alabama and Florida State.
The Tigers climbed to the top of Malik’s double-digit list with an approach his father describes as “consistent” from start to finish.
“They kept up with him week to week, checked in on him with his injuries and just wanted to know about his life,” Lemeco Miller said. “They weren’t out there worrying about him. They just wanted to see how he was doing.”
Malik Miller verbally committed to the school in early June and stuck to his pledge through the fall. The coaching staff never stopped making the running back fell like a top priority.
“I think he felt good with everything about Auburn,” Cohu said. “He felt good about the coaching staff, the atmosphere and Kerryon (Johnson) having a good experience only helped things.”
Before making his announcement, Miller already decided to pursue an early graduation at Madison Academy. The school didn’t offer a fast track option, so he requested special permission to finish his course work a semester in advance.
“He was already taking some advance classes, so we set up a meeting and explained what he wanted to do,” Lemeco Miller said. “They looked into it, checked his grades and were willing to do it.”
Malik’s parents acted as a sounding board for their son, confident in his decision-making process.
“I don’t think it was that stressful for him,” Lemeco Miller said. “We knew football would kind of take care of itself. He was good enough to play, so we just wanted to make sure he thought about his future and academics.”
Malik Miller didn’t arrive on the plains without some practice facing FBS level competition.
He spent years in high school battling for playing time with current Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson.
The former Alabama Mr. Football and Miller were one of the most dynamic backfields in the state helping Madison Academy win multiple state titles.
As a sophomore, Miller was the MVP of the Mustangs’ 31-14 win over Leeds in the 2013 title game with 168 yards and two touchdowns.
Johnson starred in the Class 3A finals a year later setting a record with six total touchdowns in a 70-34 win Dale County.
The friends’ time as teammates helped them develop into elite backs.
“I tried to tell both those guys that nothing is going to be handed to them,” Cohu said. “Hard work is the only conduit to go as far as you can. They spurred each other.”
Malik’s father said the battle for carries at Madison Academy was a “win-win” for both players.
“I think there are a lot of recruits who are the ‘guy’ at the school,” Miller said. “He was in a situation where the people that played in front and behind him were just as good. He had to earn it.”
Clock in, clock out
Johnson and Malik are similarly talented but don’t share similar personalities.
Cohu calls Johnson the outgoing one of the two former teammates while describing Miller as very serious. It’s an attitude Miller possessed growing up.
“I had to remind him to be a kid sometimes,” Lemeco Miller said. “He’s got that clock-in, clock-out attitude. He’s always been a serious kid. He would wake up and hit the gym or the field and just go to work.”
Cohu sees Malik’s personality serving him well at the next level.
“He’s going to be the poster guy there for guys they recruit,” Cohu said.