On the last snap of his Strongsville High School career, Blake Miller drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for driving his blocking assignment out of bounds and into a fence.
Minutes later, the towering offensive tackle was on the verge of tears, swallowing head coach Lou Cirino up into a bittersweet bear hug as he realized his four years of Ohio prep football — and the blood, sweat and tears that came with them — were almost over.
“I just care so much, coach. I just care so much …”
If you’re looking for the Blake Miller experience personified, Cirino said, it’s all there in the final minutes of Strongsville’s season-ending playoff loss last October.
The mean streak known to draw 15-yard penalties. The hidden softer side. And the unrelenting passion for the game that has Miller on track to make history in No. 4 Clemson’s season opener.
When the Tigers play Georgia Tech in Monday’s Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, 18-year-old right tackle Miller will become only the fourth true freshman offensive lineman to start a season opener for Clemson since the NCAA established permanent freshman eligibility in 1972.
Consider it the crowning achievement of an eight-month meteoric rise that saw Miller, a former four-star recruit, go from impressing upperclassmen as an early enrollee to making strides in spring ball to single-handedly changing a Power Five program’s offensive line plans this August.
Or maybe it wasn’t so meteoric.
“I’ve said this to everybody,” Cirino told The State. “I’m not surprised at all.”
Cirino coached Miller all four years at Strongsville but first met him in middle school. Back then, he said, Miller was already an “abnormal creature,” someone who started lifting with the varsity football team after seventh grade and played at 6-foot-6 and 335 pounds as an eighth-grader.
In other words, he was physically ready for varsity football long before debuting in the Greater Cleveland Conference, where “you’re playing Power Five kids every week at some position,” Cirino said. Miller’s first career varsity start came as a 14-year-old defensive lineman against an offensive line featuring an Ohio State-bound tackle and Michigan State-bound guard.
“And Blake was unreal,” Cirino said. “He was unreal.”
The legend of “B Mill” only grew from there. A survivor of AP Chemistry and AP Physics who scored a 29 on his ACT and “was in classes with nerds,” as Cirino joked, Miller was unflinchingly formulaic in his football approach. Give him a problem, he’d find a solution.
From developing personal nutrition plans to digging into weightlifting specifics to soaking in coaches’ conversations on the sidelines, Miller tackled the game like a science while developing winning routines and staying curious. Very curious. His favorite question for Cirino: “Why?”
“The number of times Blake Miller has asked me that in the last four years, I couldn’t tell you,” Cirino said, laughing. “It happened so many times. If we were going to power clean: ‘Why? How does this help me? What’s the reasoning behind this?’ He always needed to understand.”
Given his extensive physical and mental preparation, it’s no wonder Miller reached a near-bionic state as a left tackle. He allowed zero sacks across 352 pass-blocking snaps as a junior and a senior. He didn’t miss a snap in 2021 as a two-way player while scoring all-state, all-region and all-district honors for the second straight year. He never missed a game.
Outside of being an iron man, Miller also put the gentle in gentle giant.
Sure, he was the fearsome player who once recorded a game-winning sack when he burst through the line and prompted a quarterback to essentially wilt at the sight of him. And the calculated competitor who, during his official visit weekend last year, was already scoping out the Clemson linemen he’d be competing against for reps this year during pregame warmups.
But he was also the four-time all-academic honoree who once fumed over missing out on a coveted processor piece for a gaming PC like he would a missed blocking assignment. And the jokester who was always good for a well-timed snarky comment, the kind of humor that would send a meeting room into hysterics while Miller looked away and pretended he didn’t say it.
“That’s B Mill, man,” Cirino said. “That’s B Mill.”
Miller, the No. 208 overall recruit in the class of 2022, committed to Clemson over Ohio State and other suitors as a junior and stayed true to the Tigers despite a coaching change at his position, as Thomas Austin replaced the retiring Robbie Caldwell as offensive line coach.
Since enrolling early at Clemson in January, all he’s done is impress everyone from teammates to Austin to head coach Dabo Swinney, who compared the 6-6, 317-pound Miller to Mitch Hyatt, the only other true freshman tackle on record to start a Clemson season opener, “but bigger and stronger and longer.”
“Physically, he’s a man,” left tackle Jordan McFadden said.
“One hell of a monster,” left guard Marcus Tate said.
“We had to check his birth certificate because we thought he was, like, 25 years old,” said right guard Walker Parks, who gladly slid over from the starting right tackle spot he held last year to make room for Miller. “He might be the most developed freshman we’ve ever seen coming in here, outlifting dudes and outrunning dudes. Blake is more than ready.”
Cirino is, too. He got a crash course in the quirks of his star offensive tackle for years: the smarts, the mean streak, overarching love for the game. Now it’s college football’s turn for the Blake Miller experience, and he doesn’t think it’ll disappoint.
Clemson vs. Georgia Tech game, TV info
Who: Clemson (0-0, 0-0 ACC) vs. Georgia Tech (0-0, 0-0 ACC)
Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta
When: 8 p.m. Monday
Line: Clemson by 21.5
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