He was only a freshman.
"Who the hell is Braxton Miller?" I asked our group. It was Jan. 6, 2008. We were standing in the middle of a jam-packed Bourbon Street the night before the Buckeyes would be playing LSU for the BCS title. A high school freshman quarterback had just been brought up in conversation as a foregone conclusion to end up at Ohio State. It was the first time I had ever heard his name.
He's going to be the QB at Wayne for the next three years was the enthusiastic consensus. He's ridiculous and he'll take over for Pryor when he leaves. I stood in the street holding my drink and tried to fully comprehend the convincing language I was hearing from what I had thought were informed, sane football people.
This Braxton Miller kid - who was, what, 15 years old - was already ordained to be Ohio State's quarterback after current high school senior Terrelle Pryor's triumphant reign. Never mind Pryor had not even yet declared his college choice yet; they were already writing off all of the other 15-year-old QBs in America and beyond and going all-in on Braxton as Pryor's successor. My eyeballs were spinning.
"See, this is why I don't follow recruiting," I said. "You're talking about Ohio State's quarterback four seasons from now. That's an eternity. This is a kid who was in 8th grade a few months ago. The Buckeyes play for the BCS title tomorrow and you're out here hyping 8th graders."
It didn't matter. They had already reached a consensus. Pryor will start over Todd Boeckman next year, leave for the NFL following his junior season and Braxton will start as a true freshman. This wasn't a debate worth entering.
Any payoff for winning it was so far into the future that this conversation - in the middle of Bourbon Street, aided by numerous libations - would be long forgotten by 2011 and there would be no payoff. We turned our attention to other topics.
anyone who saw BRAXTON play as a high school freshman KNEW they were seeing the future.
I've been to New Orleans countless times and you cannot make up the weird stuff that routinely happens in that town. That conversation might be the weirdest. Pryor committed to Ohio State that March, took the starting job from Boeckman in September and ignominiously exited Columbus in 2011.
He was Miller's teammate for four months. They dressed for one spring game together and that was it. The matter-of-fact prediction from that evening - and how correct it ended up being - seemed absurd at the time. In hindsight it was informed, sane speculation, and the payoff for winning that debate ended up belonging to us all.
Braxton Miller had it. His age was irrelevant. And anyone who saw him play as a high school freshman felt like they were already seeing the future.
HE WAS ONLY A FRESHMAN.
Miller was the only quarterback enrolling with the class of 2011, as Cardale Jones was heading to Fork Union first. He would enter Ohio State in the spring and was set to have ample time to pick up and learn the college game:
Miller would be best served by redshirting in 2011 in his first year with the Buckeyes and learning for a year while Pryor is a senior.
Six months later Braxton was starting football games out of necessity behind a senior-laden but grossly underachieving line. His position coach was exposed as a patsy - hastily inserted into the late Joe Daniels' role - after Jim Tressel's departure and would be permanently out of the coaching business following the season. His offensive coordinator wouldn't be retained by Urban Meyer for numerous valid reasons.
Tressel used to call Ohio State's quarterback the most important person in the state of Ohio. Braxton was inadequately mentored and thrust into the spotlight on a team whose atmosphere was toxic and uneasy; tangled in multiple NCAA investigations, bizarre media scrutiny and wild predictions about its eventual fate, lingering uncertainty and - most viscerally - mediocre football.
Aside from the night he dramatically broke Wisconsin's heart that entire 2011 was among the most joyless in program history. The Buckeyes finished 6-7 in a year where everything was put on hold; their future, their recruiting class, their punishment and their coaching staff. But it was not a total loss.
Ohio State ended up having the Big Ten and National Freshman of the Year on its roster. He was well on his way to breaking 10 Ohio State records, being named the MVP of the conference twice and leading that rudderless 6-7 program out of the abyss in one season's time. No. 5 gave fans their reason to believe it would all be better soon.
That campaign was doomed from the outset, but Braxton did everything possible to save an unsalvageable season. Imagine 2011 without him. You can't. It's unimaginable.
HE WAS PLAYING HIS FIRST GAME IN 21 MONTHS.
He almost went pro two years ago. He was rumored to be transferring one year ago. He's not supposed to still be here.
Too many surgeries and even more injuries. A mid-game hospital visit by ambulance. A postseason ban following an undefeated season. A lost year. An uncooperative throwing shoulder. Three head coaches. Months of rumors and speculation about enrolling elsewhere accompanied by another extensive, exhausting rehabilitation - just to get back on the field in some capacity. Miller signed up for none of this.
And yet, a team captain. A Bachelors degree in Communications. Three Gold Pants. Two Silver Footballs. A national championship ring.
Somehow Braxton has still never experienced a postseason win in pads.
Braxton already has everything he came to Ohio State to get, technically. He's already committed his son to attend his alma mater Papa Spielman-style and is now down to half of a season-long interview for a job - any job - playing professional football.
Miller has been the Buckeyes' most important player on the field as well as their MVP off of it. He gave Ohio State hope in a hopeless season and led it to an undefeated rebound. Even his absence gifted us J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones.
He's been in Columbus for five years; two more than many people expected. Somehow he has still never experienced a postseason win in pads while giving the program more than anyone could have possibly imagined. Currently he gives opposing defenses an unwanted element to prepare for - and we still expect him to take over games at any moment, albeit from a new position.
As a freshman in high school his destiny in Columbus was deemed a foregone conclusion. Miller had it. And anyone who saw him play during that lost season of 2011 felt like they were already seeing the future.
Four seasons later he continues to be the most exciting player on the field. We hold our collective breath every time he has the ball and openly expect him to take over games on any given play. He will be the key that finally unlocks the Buckeye offense. He's going to be the one who makes it fearsome again. He'll be that X-factor that makes everyone else on the field better.
It's been nearly eight years since that conversation on Bourbon Street and Miller, now at wide receiver, is somehow still the future we just can't wait to see. Unfortunately for us all, the future is finally running out of time.