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Montana defeats Drake

Montana safety Reid Miller runs away with a interception in the second half against Drake.

MISSOULA — During Arkansas' spring football slate earlier this year, safety Reid Miller tackled one of his fellow Razorback teammates. 

The right side of Miller's abdomen hurt following the hit. Arkansas' athletic training staff, who Miller said handled the situation great, initially chalked Miller's pain up to "abdominal soreness."

The night following the hit, Miller couldn't sleep. His side still hurt. The pain hadn't subsided.

"I was like, 'I need to get something done here," Miller recalled.

Miller, now a senior safety at Montana, went in for a CT scan the following day to see if there were any underlying problems. 

Doctors found one. His appendix was about to explode.

"They said, 'Yeah it's about to burst. We need to take you to the hospital and you need to have surgery tonight,'" Miller said. "I had surgery. It ruined my spring, but if that hadn't happened, I might not have been here. I'm sorta glad it happened."

Miller sat out recovering from his appendectomy the rest of Arkansas' spring.

Unfortunately for Miller, it was an important time to make an impression. The previous coaching staff had been let go and the new staff under head coach Chad Morris began its assessments of the Razorbacks. 

"I respect coach Morris, but was tough for me when coach (Bret) Bielema left," Miller said. "But with my appendectomy, I was sorta like, 'Wow. I can't really prove to the coaching staff what I'm about.'"

Miller never really announced to anyone he was officially leaving the Razorbacks of the SEC — he's not a big social media guy — but he was officially introduced to Montana and the Grizzly football program in the early summer. 

"I started talking to coach Shann. They set up a visit and I loved it," Miller said. "I couldn't say no."

Through two games at Montana, Miller has racked up 15 tackles, an interception, two passes defended and a pass breakup.

Miller's takedown total is currently second on the team behind two-time reigning Big Sky defensive player of the week Dante Olson. 

"He's done a nice job," Montana coach Bobby Hauck said. "He had a good game last Saturday for sure."

Against Drake, Miller grabbed his first career interception, as well as six tackles. 

"It was an unbelievable feeling," Miller said of his first official pick. "When you catch it and can celebrate with your teammates on the sideline, it's a feeling that you really can't replicate anywhere else. It was awesome. It was a cool experience."

Miller has technically caught two interceptions as a Montana Grizzly — both against Drake — but one was called back due to a penalty. 

***

Miller started playing flag football when he was eight, beginning as a running back. 

But he eventually decided he'd rather tackle people than be the one getting tackled.

In high school in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, Miller played on both sides of the ball — lining up as a safety and as a running back.

Miller had 32 carries and 431 yards as a running back during his sophomore campaign as a Golden Tiger. On defense he added 40 tackles and five pass breakups.

By the time his junior year rolled around, Miller totaled 94 tackles, two interceptions and 10 forced fumbles. That statistic line garnered national attention, including looks from the IMG Academy in Florida.

"They recruit just like any private school. Their defensive coordinator had a family up in the Pittsburgh area," Miller said. "Just from film and stuff, contacted me and I took a visit down there. I liked it. I left halfway through my junior year. Basically through basketball season. I stopped playing basketball, went down there and just started playing football."

Miller didn't show up to the Bradenton, Florida, campus in 100 percent shape. Miller joined the Ascenders on crutches with a broken big toe. 

"I got tackled in football season from behind and my big toe rolled up in my shoe," Miller said. "I had surgery on it and was sorta damaged goods when I got there, but I healed up."

Miller said attending IMG Academy was a big adjustment from traditional high school living. 

It's more similar to college than to what most high school kids are used to.

"You live by yourself. You live in a dorm with a roommate. You have class from 8-12 and you have football from 1:30-6 every day," Miller said. "It's definitely a big adjustment from normal high school but I enjoyed every minute of it."

The IMG Academy Miller is familiar with doesn't look the same as it does now.

Back in those days, the locker room was made up of trailers. The new, pristine facilities were finally finished for the end of his senior year of high school."

"I was the first class to be in those facilities, which was nice. I was fortunate, very fortunate."

Miller, who had his eyes set on playing collegiate football since his junior high days, had already been in contact with multiple FBS college coaches. But luck wasn't on his side. 

Bill O'Brien had been recruiting Miller to Penn State, took Houston Texans head coaching job in 2014. Paul Chryst wrapped up his coaching career at Pittsburg in 2014, leaving to coach at his alma mater Wisconsin in 2015.

Neither O'Brien nor Chryst's successors continued recruiting Miller. 

"I was sorta open after that," Miller said. "'I'll go anywhere in the country.' Then Arkansas came up, and like I said, the rest is history. I just picked up and left again."

Arkansas came to IMG Academy to recruit one of Miller's close friends, Hjalte Froholdt. But Miller caught Bielema's eye too. 

Miller ended up walking on at Arkansas.

"It was weird how it happened," Miller said. "Right place, right time, just like the football field, right place, right time, usually it'll work out all right."

It didn't take long for Miller to stand out. 

Miller played in 12 of Arkansas' 13 games as a true freshman. 

Toward the end of fall camp before his sophomore season, Bielema gave Miller a scholarship. 

"It was at the end of practice one day at the end of fall camp actually, he had us stand up, me and a tight end, he just said we were the newest scholarship members of Arkansas," Miller recalled. "It was pretty cool. Nothing really big. I wouldn't like anything big. It was simple.

"It was nice. It was cool to tell my parents and stuff, but yeah, it was a very emotional day. But a day I'll remember forever."

Miller primarily played on special teams for Arkansas, played in all 12 games as a junior, racking up nine tackles and recovered one fumble. Miller also played in all 13 of Arkansas' games as a sophomore and totaled nine tackles.

While playing in the SEC, Miller suited up in all of the nationally renowned stadiums. 

"It was a cool experience. Growing up you see them on TV, but then when you get to playing in them, it's a different animal. It's something I'll never forget," Miller said of playing college football in SEC country.

"The atmosphere is something else, but I'll tell you what, Washington-Grizzly Stadium, I can say that's the loudest I've ever heard. Especially in the north endzone, I couldn't even hear my own thoughts. That was unbelievable. That ranks up with the Tennessees and the Alabamas."

He graduated with his bachelor's degree in Supply Chain Management with a management minor in May from Arkansas. Miller is currently working on his Master's in Business Administration at Montana.

Miller is one of three Grizzly football players — with Reggie Tilleman and Eric Williams — and one of 36 Big Sky Conference football players who are playing with their undergraduate degree in hand. 

Miller's tenure at Montana won't be a long one — he only has one season of eligibility left — but he's making the most of every moment he has as a Grizzly. 

He's embraced it.

"To be honest, I know the fight song here. I know everything about the university here and at Arkansas, we didn't," Miller said. "It wasn't a culture like that. I like it here. The guys here, the scenery's beautiful, we don't have this in Pennsylvania or Arkansas. It means a lot to me. The relationships I've developed. They'll last a lifetime."

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Amie Just covers Griz football and Missoula-area preps. Follow her on Twitter @Amie_Just or email her at Amie.Just@406mtsports.com.

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