STRONGSVILLE – Even on his first visit to Columbus, which he took as a freshman with fellow Strongsville offensive lineman J.D. Duplain, who now plays for Michigan State, Blake Miller needed no introduction.
Long before taking in that spring practice at the Woody Hayes Athletic Facility a couple of years ago, he had poured hours into watching Ohio State. Even now as a recruit using what he calls an “unbiased eye” to evaluate potential college programs, he doesn’t shy away from the fact that he grew up a Buckeyes fan. His parents did, too. He understands the program, its history and its standing in the college football landscape. It’s both familiar and comfortable.
And ever since that first visit, he says he has begun to build a relationship with head coach Ryan Day and offensive line coach Greg Studrawa that has “just gotten stronger and stronger.”
“I feel like I've been around them the most so far,” Miller told Eleven Warriors after a workout with his team on Wednesday morning.
The Buckeyes extended a scholarship offer on April 24 to Miller, a three-star offensive lineman who’s ranked the 24th-best tackle and No. 9 Ohioan in the 2022 cycle. With his family ties to Ohio State and fandom widely known, many suspected he’d end his recruitment shortly thereafter.
Those people waited. And waited. And waited.
Behind the scenes, Miller felt no rush, saying he “didn't want to jump the gun and commit straight off the bat.” Despite an ability to end it all and plan to attend the school he always rooted for, he didn’t see any need to wrap up his recruitment a year-and-a-half before he could even sign a National Letter of Intent. Not with a few other national programs chasing him and others he hadn’t yet been able to visit. In fact, as he referenced more than once during Wednesday’s interview, he referred back to what Day and Studrawa have constantly harped on with him.
“I don't want to overlook something that might be a pretty big part because what coach Stud and what coach Day said kind of sticks with me,” Miller said. “It's not a four-year decision. It's a 40-year decision.”
In a bit of a weird twist, those words of advice from Day and Studrawa have actually helped Miller see the greater picture beyond just the team he grew up supporting, and in doing so, they’ve opened the door for other programs to make their pitches to him.
The two other programs he says are the “main” schools he talks to most, along with Ohio State? Michigan and Clemson.
The Buckeyes find themselves fending off their archrival and the national power that knocked it out of the College Football Playoff in December.
“Michigan has a great program going on down there. They produce guys. So does Ohio State. So does Clemson. A lot of guys produce players. I try and look at everyone without a bias at all.”– ohio state target Blake Miller
Naturally, raised in a community surrounded by Ohio State fans, he has heard “a little bit” of chatter about how he’s considering the two teams largely viewed as the Buckeyes’ biggest rivals right now. However, he has intentionally tried to keep those voices out of his head. He says it has helped that his parents constantly tell him they’ll be happy for him and support him wherever he goes.
“I try not to let it affect my decision that much because you can't let you rooting for a school kind of override your whole decision-making process because you might overlook a few things that might be pretty critical,” Miller said. “So far, I really like Ohio State. What they've got going on is just great down there. But I can't let the fact that I grew up rooting for them override other things.”
Everything, for Miller, is about the process.
It’s that way both in his recruitment and in his progression as a lineman.
His father, a 6-foot-4 former high school cross country runner and soccer player who eventually gained a love for the gym, introduced Miller to weight rooms when he was just 8 or 9 years old. He showed him basic lifts, which, to Miller, was “the greatest feeling.” Within a couple of years, his dad got him a personal trainer who began to teach proper technique. Soon thereafter, he started going to the gym with a purpose, packing on ever-increasing strength.
Along the way, the gym became a sanctuary of sorts.
“It's like a home away from home almost,” Miller said.
When Miller lifts, he doesn’t shout. He isn’t demonstrative. The 6-foot-6, 315-pounder is as low-key as can be, often keeping to himself with his eyes low with a singular mindset of moving the weight where he wants it to go.
“I always strive to be the strongest guy in my grade, strongest guy in the grade above me, honestly,” Miller said. “That's always my goal is to be the strongest guy in the weight room.”
At Strongsville, the 16-year-old rising junior holds the title of being the strongest guy on the football team. It didn’t take long to notice that as he lifted with a few dozen of his high school teammates in their weight room on Wednesday.
But he doesn’t care if people notice. In fact, he never even seems to see people staring.
His teammates’ eyes followed him when he raised 545 pounds on his back, and someone shouted, “Let’s go, Blake.” But three reps at the squat rack later, he swiftly turned around with his eyes down, undid the lifting belt wrapped around his stomach and moved on to helping clean up some dumbbells laying on the ground.
Just another weekday in the process of building him into what he hopes will be “the best (offensive lineman) wherever I am.”
“When it comes to me in the weight room, I don't want to gloat,” Miller said. “I don't want to showboat. I just hope that by me putting up big weight, it kind of inspires my teammates to try and put on that extra five, that extra 10, that extra weight. Even if it's only 2.5 pounds, extra 10 pounds on it, that's them getting that much better. And if they do that every lift, just put an extra five pounds on it each time, they're going to increase their lifts radically.
“If I can just almost by example lead my teammates, help them out, help them get stronger, help them get better in any way I can, that's something I want to do.”
Got a chance to spend some time with Strongsville offensive tackle Blake Miller this morning. It turns out if you can rep 540 pounds on squat as a 16-year-old junior, Ohio State and everybody else in America wants you to protect their quarterback. pic.twitter.com/HKlAo7dDIU— Colin Hass-Hill (@chasshill) July 8, 2020
The workmanlike attitude carries onto the field, where he’s the top-rated recruit on his team.
“I really try to push myself so every year I want to be better than I was the last year,” Miller said. “I never want to be the same, and I for sure don't want to be worse. I want to be noticeably better. Any way I can push myself.”
Big and powerful already, Miller’s focus right now is on blocking in space. He’s not quite as fast or quick as he wants to be, saying that “you're nothing as an offensive lineman” if you can’t get off the ball quickly and get your hands on defensive linemen or lock up linebackers in the open field. That requires a degree of finesse only achievable with improved agility.
Some of that he worked on earlier this year with Duplain, who was a five-star starter at left guard last year as a true freshman.
“I've always strived to be as good as him, be better than him,” Miller said. “I know I'm not there yet, but I always strive to be better.”
It’s all one big process for Miller, both on the field and in selecting a college.
Right now, he’s chiefly focused on his on-field development, though it’s not necessarily by choice.
The complete inability to take any visits to college campuses or have coaches take a trip to Strongsville has made his recruitment “a bit quiet.” Miller speaks to Ohio State’s coaches and Michigan’s coaches about once a week, and he talks to Clemson offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell once or twice a month.
Eventually, he’d like to make some return visits, having been to all three campuses already. He also wants to visit two other schools – LSU and Tennessee, which he called “an up-and-comer” – that have offered him scholarships this year, and he says he’s open to others.
But they’ll be playing from behind.
The trio of Ohio State, Clemson and Michigan is out in front, which is clear based on his thoughts about what stood out about each of the three schools based on past campus visits.
- Clemson: “Clemson definitely stands out to me because just the atmosphere and everything down there is just, the whole town eats, sleeps, breaths college football and breaths Clemson. Clemson football is so big down there. And plus the coaches, the way they do things down there, to me, is very special. The coaches truly care about their players.”
- Ohio State: “Ohio State sticks out as well. They really want to set their players up in the long-term. Coach Day, coach Stud have told me multiple times it's not about the next four years, it's about the next 40. You graduate with a degree from Ohio State, you want it to mean something, and it does. They set you up in the long-term. They have the Real Life Wednesday (program) down there. They show you everything that you need to know to be an educated man. They don't just, 'Oh, you're a football player, and oh, you have a degree from this school.' You're a man and you know how to conduct yourself in a business meeting, conduct yourself in an interview.”
- Michigan: “Michigan, as well. The things they do to their players, to me, is very impressive. Obviously Michigan, it's a school that's pretty good. Their academics are up there. They have a similar thing to Ohio State, kind of like the Real Life Wednesdays. They teach their players how to conduct themselves. They want their players to be men. They don't want them to be just football players. Those are players that their culture and stuff stood out to me.”
Yes, it’s fair to view Ohio State as the heavy favorite. Miller has been a Buckeyes fan since he was a child, and his parents cheer for them, too. Studrawa and Day offered him a scholarship early in the process, and he’s been around them and their program more than anyone else’s thus far.
But don’t expect Miller to rush anything. Since he’s only midway through his high school career and plans to take more visits, there’s simply no need. He has no timetable on a decision other than that he knows “for a fact” he wants to have a school chosen by the time his senior year begins.
Miller isn’t scared off by the thought of playing for a college football team that many in his home state don’t care for, either. He just wants to find the best fit for himself, whether that’s in Columbus, Ann Arbor, Clemson or elsewhere.
“I try not to let anything influence,” Miller said. “Michigan has a great program going on down there. They produce guys. So does Ohio State. So does Clemson. A lot of guys produce players. I try and look at everyone without a bias at all. Whether I grew up rooting for a team or disliking a team, I try not to let any of that affect it because, once again, from the time I was watching them, they could have changed drastically.
“Coaching staffs change. Schemes change. Everything changes. So just looking at things with an unbiased eye is very important to me.”