Jay Minton knows Braxton Miller as well as practically anyone after coaching him throughout his Wayne High School career, and he could foresee the quarterback accomplishing some mighty feats while playing for Ohio State.
“I told people around here, ‘Within Braxton’s four years, they will be in a national championship game, and they might be in it twice. And at some point, Braxton is going to be up for the Heisman,’ ” Minton said.
While we won’t know whether the Buckeyes have a national title game in their future with Miller until they become eligible after this year, the sophomore has already made one of the coach’s bold predictions come true: He’s a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender.
West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith was the runaway leader before the Mountaineers were thrashed at Texas Tech last week. And while Smith didn’t play poorly, his gap over the rest of the field has narrowed.
He has a one-point edge on Miller among more than 30 voters in the USA Today Sports Media Group poll. At SportsIlustrated.com, Smith also is first and Miller second.
The OSU star has rushed for 912 yards and nine touchdowns and passed for 1,271 yards and another 11 scores in seven games, while Smith, who is mostly a pocket passer, has thrown for 2,271 yards and 25 TDs with no interceptions.
“All the coaches here, we kind of have our Braxton time,” Minton said. “We talk about him and how he’s doing, some of the moves he makes. People seem astonished at him, but we saw that for four years. It doesn’t really surprise us much.”
When Urban Meyer became coach at Ohio State, he made a trip to Wayne to meet with Minton and learn more about Miller. The coaches have conversed since then by phone.
“As close as we get with players, I want to know his background — anything from his work ethic in practice, to his love of the game, to his family involvement, to his motivation,” Meyer said. “I’ve known Jay a little bit, I know him better now. He runs, not a good program, but a great program. I drove down … because I knew how critical my relationship with Braxton was going to be.
“They love him, obviously. He did great things for the program. He’s the same humble kid. It’s hard to find those guys nowadays — especially as athletic and successful as he’s been. It really helped me on how to coach Braxton.”
Minton has dealt with top coaches because of the many major-college recruits he’s had over the years — including former OSU quarterback Steve Bellisari during a coaching stint in Boca Rotan, Fla. — but the time he spent with Meyer was memorable.
“What a pleasure and honor that he’d come down here and pick our brains about this young man,” Minton said. “Honestly, there wasn’t enough time in the day to sit there and talk about Braxton because there’s so many great things you can say about him.
“(Meyer wanted to know) how does he handle certain things? How coachable is he? All the questions he asked were so easy to talk about because you didn’t have to beat around the bush. What you see with that young man is it. He’s just so level-headed. That’s the way he was brought up. He’s got his priorities in order.”
Miller, who led the Warriors to a Division I state runner-up finish as a senior, has had some sensational runs this season — and some even leave his teammates shaking their heads in amazement.
“I’ve never seen anything like him. I think he’s the best athlete I’ve ever been on the field with — I know he is,” said left tackle Jack Mewhort, a fourth-year junior. “The cuts he makes or the way he out-runs guys or the stutter-steps that make guys fall down when they’re trying to tackle him, it’s incredible to watch it on film. You go in the film room and rewind it 20 times just to watch it over and over. Some of the stuff he does is just crazy.”
Miller succeeded a phenomenal athlete at quarterback in Terrelle Pryor, who also could blow past defenders.
“Obviously he could move,” Mewhort said. “I’d say Braxton is shiftier, and he’s got the burst to get away from guys.”
Reminded of the effective stiff arm Pryor used, Mewhort said: “Yeah, but Braxton would rather make the guy fall down without touching him.”
Miller, who was clocked at Wayne in the 40-yard dash at 4.39 seconds, is on the verge of becoming the 20th player at Ohio State — and first QB — to rush for 1,000 yards.
“Braxton just continues to improve,” Minton said. “He’s put on great weight (about 30 pounds). Of course, Urban always talks about his butt. We get a kick out of that.”
Meyer likes to tease Miller about his ample derriere. The ESPN All-Access show during preseason camp revealed a comfortable rapport between the coach and player with Meyer often calling his quarterback, “Big A—.”
Minton said his protege “is in the right place at the right time under the right person.” He’s already seeing growth in Miller as a passer and expects him to soon be putting up prolific totals through the air.
“That’s the thing people don’t understand,” Minton said. “They see him running all over the place and running for 100-yards-plus a game. But there’s going to be a time when he’s throwing for 250-plus a game. You watch. Once he gets to that point and he’s still running for 100-plus, there’s going to be something special there. Even more special than we know.”
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