Quiet Leadership: Why Braxton Miller is Attending the ESPYs on Behalf of Ohio State

By Eric Seger on July 15, 2015 at 8:35 am
Braxton Miller at the B1G Title Game

Braxton Miller quickly jumped out of his car and dashed his things in a van that already held three of his teammates: linebacker Joshua Perry, fellow quarterback Cardale Jones and running back Ezekiel Elliott.

Playful jabbing ensued from them because their first flight of a cross country trip to Los Angeles supposedly left in less than an hour. He then shot back to his lock his car and turned to the media scrum that had been anxiously awaiting his arrival.

“Where y’all been at? Been looking for you," said Miller jokingly, the guy donning a camouflage outfit and robust earrings who was late for his airport chariot, a big smile on his face as he strolled over to reporters.

The man who stayed quiet during Ohio State's improbable run to the 2014 College Football Playoff National Championship broke his silence to the Columbus Dispatch last week, but Tuesday was the first time he'd given an interview session to the entire Columbus media in nearly a calendar year.

"I’m a Buckeye, man," Miller reiterated.

He is, and he always has been, despite constant rumors that he would explore other options as a graduate transfer once seeing what Jones and J.T. Barrett did in his place during 2014. Barrett set a crazy list of records last season, en route to Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors and a fifth-place finish in the Heisman Trophy voting.

Miller, a two-time Big Ten Player of the Year, stood and watched while during the 2014 season, quietly rehabbing his surgically repaired right shoulder with hopes to come back and win the starting job this fall. Yet, it was Miller, not Barrett or any other big name from the team hopping in a van with three of his best friends to head to the airport and eventually the ESPYs as a representative of a group in the running for the Best Team Award.

"Who is it to say that these certain guys can represent the team? No one or two, three, four or five players represent the team," Jones said Tuesday. "Speak for the team? Maybe. But represent the Ohio State University football, I don’t think it’s possible."

Jones is a nominee in the Best Breakthrough Athlete category. Meyer is a candidate for Best Coach/Manager. He, along with Jones, Perry and Elliott all physically played a part in the on-field Ohio State product that won a national title.

Miller did not, at least not between the lines. Yet he's on site in Los Angeles. Why?

"In my opinion, and I’m pretty sure the coaches may agree or disagree, but without Braxton Miller, this team would not be where we are right now," Jones said. "The way that he plays, the way that he leads, the way that he commands the offense and the team, he’s not the two-time Big Ten MVP for no reason. Even though we didn’t get a chance to play with him last year, his leadership, his coaching ability was unbelievable last year on the sidelines and on and off the football field."

Miller hardly seems the type. Even when he was ripping apart defenses with both his legs and arm during the 2012-13 seasons, he wasn't seen demanding more from his teammates. No in-your-face conversations, nothing really outside of big plays resulting in touchdown celebrations and postgame interviews where he mostly kept to himself.

"In my opinion, and I’m pretty sure the coaches may agree or disagree, but without Braxton Miller, this team would not be where we are right now."– Cardale Jones

"He's a big part of our team and a big part of everything we did last year. He was quiet, but he was definitely a leader and he was always pushing for us, always wanting guys to get better," Perry said. "He was always there."

Perry added he didn't think Ohio State would have tallied the post-season wins it did without Miller's presence, especially considering Jones was thrust into the starting job when Barrett broke his ankle in the regular season finale against Michigan.

"I don't know if we would have been successful without some of the expertise that he had and what he meant to some other guys," Perry said.

A team spokesman said Jones and Elliott were invited by ESPN and then able to bring a guest. After talking with their head coach, Perry and Miller were selected for the trip.

Perry led the team in tackles last year and is an authoritative voice, a smooth talker whose maturity is ever present. Elliott is a preseason Heisman Trophy favorite, posting a ridiculous 696 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in games against Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon last year. Jones is up for his own award.

Miller didn't play a snap. Yet he'll be on the red carpet Wednesday evening, mingling with the best athletes in the world as a walking advertisement for Ohio State.

"I think Braxton's a big reason where we are now. Braxton was a very important part of our team two years before last year," Elliott said Tuesday. "This team wouldn't be where we are without him and his leadership. I think it's important that he's there."

Miller played a huge role in establishing the winning culture Meyer demanded when there wasn't the wide-range of offensive talent available there is now. His numbers support that.

"Braxton's a very unique guy. I love Braxton Miller," Meyer said Friday at a charity event in Sandusky, Ohio. "People forget I think because of the success last year what he's meant to our program."

That's why he's going to an awards show on behalf of Ohio State. According to his teammates and coaches, he exhibited a quiet leadership that helped pushed Ohio State over the top in 2014, even without playing a single down.

"He wasn't a Heisman candidate every single year he's been in college for no reason," Jones said Friday. "The way that he kicked up his work from his injury to get back to where he is now is just unbelievable."

Miller's led by example and put the work in behind close doors, even if he doesn't like speaking with the media on behalf of the team. Those within the walls of Ohio State's football program see his influence all the time.

"Just being a leader in my position, you’ve always gotta lead on and off the field. Even if you’re not playing, you’ve gotta lead the guys," Miller said. "With me being hurt, I’ve still gotta place that leadership role. It feels great, man, it’s an honor. I respect the guys for bringing me out there with there with them and we’re gonna have fun."

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