DECATUR – When he first began sniffing around the National Football League, Decatur’s Brit Miller had all he could do to think about today.
Tomorrow, he quickly learned, was part of a future that could not be guaranteed.
From the Carolina Panthers to the San Francisco 49ers to the St. Louis Rams. From healthy to hurt to recovery to playing in constant pain.
From living on the edge to teetering on the brink.
Brit Miller knows what it’s like to have sleepless nights wondering if he’d be cut or make it back following knee surgery.
In a sport where an NFL roster spot is more precious than gold and the competition for it is unending, Miller has survived long odds.
Now, preparing to begin his fourth season on an NFL roster, the St. Louis Rams’ fullback and special teams performer has reached a point where he has to think about tomorrow. And even (gulp) a year or two down the road.
Miller recently became a father for the second time when he and mama Emily gave birth to a son, Cooper Cole Miller, at Decatur’s St. Mary’s Hospital.
“He turned one month old (Thursday),” Miller said proudly this week as he put Cooper and 19-month-old daughter Macy down for a nap. “I can tell you that taking care of the kids on a week off is harder than football.”
Miller is far from breathing easy the way a veteran starter might do. But he likes his situation on the Rams, likes new head coach Jeff Fisher, says he’s physically feels the best he has since high school and can finally dare to dream about his future, including ways a grateful Decatur kid can give back.
Step one in that venture will happen on Thursday, June 22 at Red Tail Run golf course in Decatur, where Miller will host a golf outing that will try to raise $7,000 to be donated to his alma mater, Eisenhower High School, to help purchase badly needed football equipment.
He’ll have some of his St. Louis Rams teammates in town for the occasion, including former Illini teammate, Michael Hoomanawanui.
Step two could happen next year after he and Emily can formalize their own non-profit charity organization. And high on Miller’s list is hosting two events annually to help Decatur public school athletes or teams.
“We won’t get our non-profit organized this year, but we wanted to get started and partnering up with Eisenhower in this golf outing was the most logical for me,” Miller said.
“I know they need the help. Money doesn’t buy wins, but it can help. Kids like it when they are around better facilities. They take more pride in what they do. A new jersey for a 16 to 18-year-old kid is a huge thing. It’s a sense of pride for them and I want to help make that happen.
“I remember what it was like when I played at Eisenhower. And I know they are still using (equipment) from when I was there. It shouldn’t be that way. That can put a kid at risk. An athlete in Decatur deserves the same quality and safety from their equipment that a kid in the Chicago suburbs gets.”
Down the road, Miller envisions having a hand in events that might raise enough money to help Decatur athletes with scholarships in addition to equipment upgrades. And he plans to take advantage of an NFL program that matches money for non-profit charities sponsored by players.
Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Ben Rothlisberger and Philip Rivers are among the players whose foundations have received money from the NFL and Miller wants some of that money coming to Decatur.
“I’m one year away from qualifying for that matching program,” he said.
This is a big season for Miller. He feels he’s on the verge of raising his value by demonstrating his veteran capabilities. He’s senses that Fisher, special teams coordinator John Fassel and running backs coach Ben Sirmans respect the way he plays and his resiliency through three seasons.
“They look at me as someone who has been there and done that,” he said. “They don’t fret about the details as much with me.”
And he left an impression during the team’s weight room testing.
“This is the strongest I’ve ever been,” said Miller, who currently weighs 255 pounds. “I don’t want to get much lower than that because you want to be a bruiser. I have to block a lot of defensive ends.”
In the weight room, linemen were asked to bench press 305 pounds in multiple repetitions. Running backs, like Miller, were asked to bench 275 pounds.
“I just decided to do the 305 pounds like the big boys and I did 17 repetitions, the most of any player on the team,” Miller said. “And I squatted 525 pounds before the (organized team activities).”
Miller said there are two more weeks of team activities in the St. Louis area, then he’s done until training camp convenes in late July.
That gives him time to concentrate on the upcoming golf outing.
“Anyone and everyone is invited,” he said. “It’s going to be a great day. I’ll have some of my Rams’ teammates up there and we have some athletic apparel signed by the Rams and other teams for a raffle and live auction.”
Pre-registration is open until June 15. Cost is $75 per person or $280 for a foursome. A meal is included. And current Eisenhower football players will be on hand to clean your clubs.
Contact Eisenhower coach Mike Goodwin to register or with questions. Mike can be reached at 309-830-3263 or by e-mail at email@example.com
They’re also seeking hole sponsors at $75 per hole.
“I’m looking forward to this,” Miller said. “We won’t turn anyone away and we’re expecting a big crowd.”
Here’s hoping this is just the first step in Miller’s quest to help his home community while extending his NFL career for years to come.