E.A. Sports Today

A Miller’s tale

Pleasant Valley’s Miller does double duty, using his legs to help the Raiders cross country and football teams

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE – Matisse Miller is definitely a man on the move and answering the starter’s gun on Saturday mornings is only the half of it.

Between the demands of playing for the Pleasant Valley football team and running on the Raiders’ cross country team, it’s a wonder the senior has time for anything else.

Take last weekend for example. He did all the kicking in PV’s 21-13 loss to Ohatchee on Friday and less than 12 hours later was turning in the fastest Class 3A 5K in the state this season in helping the PV runners win the small-school race in the Scottsboro Invitational.

Miller played multiple sports growing up. He was always the fastest player on his soccer team and then was a distance swimmer. When he got to the ninth grade he told one of his friends if he could compete in every sport the school offered he’d try to do it.

And then “this track thing” came along. Ironically, he was determined not to be a long-distance runner, but you know what they say about best-laid plans.

Miller added football to his routine in 10th grade. He dropped the cross-country that year, but continued running track. Last year he was part of the Raiders’ football program but didn’t play and ran cross-country. This year, he is doing both.

“It’s my senior year,” he explained. “I’m never stepping on a football field again in my life (after this season) – I knew from the get-go I’m not a collegiate kicker – but I don’t want to look back 10 or 20 years from now, or even next year, and say what I would give to go out there one more time.”

He does have enough leg, though. He kicked a 52-yard field goal at camp this summer and a 48-yarder in pads at practice. So far this season he didn’t play in the opener, had three kicks blocked by Gaston, didn’t kick any against Wellborn and kicked one extra point against Ohatchee.

The 16:42.09 he ran in Scottsboro was more than a minute faster than either of his two races earlier this year and nearly a minute faster than his previous competitive personal best, a 17:33 last year at St. Clair County. And he did it on a knee that was still sore from contact on an extra point the night before.

He was running fifth, some 20 seconds off the lead, at the two-mile mark, but reached back to his 800 training and starting picking off the runners in front of him. He finally passed the leader and left him in his dust.

“It definitely caught me off guard; I never fathomed I could run that fast,” Miller said. “But coach Hood has never been wrong; he always calls my races. He knows where my training is at; he said I know you can break 17, but if you’re gonna do it, you’ve gotta do it. My goal is to break 16 and if I want to break 16, by the third or fourth race I need to get to the mid- to upper-16s.”

Juggling both sports has kept his day-planner full. It’s been a routine he’s followed since Aug. 9.

On Monday he runs before school starts depending on how he feels and the weather. During the first part of the week he’s go to cross-country practice right after school and as soon as it finishes he puts on the pads and heads to the football field.

Thursdays are a walk-through day for football and a speed-work day for the runners. His football teammates come down to the track to cheer him through and “that’s a booster to me having my buddies out there screaming at me,” he said.

On football Fridays he’ll run a brisk jog with the cross-country team, then head up to the field house for pre-game meal and final game prep. On Saturday he’s up early for the ride to the race and once he returns home he’ll relax, stretch and “go about my business.” He used to run additional miles after a race to unwind, but has given up that practice this season.

Don’t think Sunday is a day of rest. Usually, he’s up at Jacksonville State putting in about five miles.

“Because the worst thing to do is stop running; make sure your body stays in motion,” he said. “Sometimes a day off is good. If you’re not hurting then the best thing to do is keep running.”

He said both of his head coaches are understanding and supportive of his participation in the other sports.

“(Football) Coach (Jonathan) Nix is very understanding,” Miller said. “We talked about it and he was like I’m not oblivious to the fact cross-country is your primary objective. I know you love football, I know you love kicking, but I do understand your first priority is cross-country; you’re going to college for that.

“(Cross-country) Coach (Brad) Hood thinks it’s cool. He’s always been very supportive. I’ve had the pleasure to run cross-country and track with him every since I started. We’ve gotten real close, closer than runner to a coach. He told me about (pro baseball player) Todd Cunningham, who ran for him at Jacksonville, so I’m not the first runner for Coach Hood who has done this, so he kind of already knows what’s going to happen.”

He’ll have more of the same this week. He’ll be kicking Friday night when the Raiders take on state power Piedmont in football and then Saturday morning he’ll run on a brand new course in Lineville at Clay Central’s race.

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