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Henry's Highlights
Thursday, April 14, 2005

By Henry Hinton

After long pursuit, Miller closing in on dream

Former East Carolina kicking specialist Kevin Miller, the Pirates' all-time leading career scorer, is producing points these days in NFL- Europe. (Photo credit: The Berlin Thunder)

 

©2005 Bonesville.net

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It must be true that perseverance pays off. Kevin Miller embodies that old saying. After years of trying, the former East Carolina kicker is finally getting his shot at the “next level” and he is making the most of it.

Miller is currently emerging as potentially the top kicker in NFL-Europe after two games. In six field goal attempts for his Berlin Thunder team, Miller has missed just once.  This past Sunday he hit a 37-yarder in the waning moments of the game to lift Berlin over Hamburg 15-13.

It has been three full football seasons since Kevin Miller donned the purple and gold. His last game in Greenville was the famous ECU-Cincinnati game the first Friday night of December 2001 — the very game that nailed the coffin on Steve Logan and got Mike Hamrick run out of town.

The Pirates lost that night to cap a 4-7 record in Miller’s senior season but there were happier days during Miller’s stay in Greenville. Just a few weeks prior, Miller broke the all-time scoring record at ECU.

Having a chance to play professionally looked pretty promising for the affable Miller. What followed, however, were three years of frustration and near-misses that would have made most people quit and move on to look for a new opportunity outside football.

Realizing that getting to the professional level as a kicker sometimes takes longer and is often a political game gave Miller enough hope to stick with it.

After several NFL tryouts, Miller seemed close to a pro contract many times, but for some reason nothing materialized.

Desperate to get a chance to show what he could do, Miller even worked out for the New Orleans Voodoo, an Arena League team. Seems there was always another kicker in the wings with better connections.

The humorous, even-tempered Miller continued to wait for the break. Calling on his roots and college training, Miller hung around Greenville for a few years doing occasional on-air work for Talk 1070 and playing golf, his other passion.

Miller also made good use of his time off, hitting the weight room daily to stay in shape and increasing his leg strength, something pro scouts had suggested to enhance his ability to get his kick-offs deeper, the one rap on Miller’s game.

He also spent a season caddying for a high school buddy who had made the PGA tour.  Cameron Yancey called on his old playing partner from Virginia Beach to tote his bag in 2002.

Miller also befriended another budding PGA star, Greenville’s Will McKenzie, who asked Miller to caddy for him during his attempt to get through qualifying school in January. McKenzie gave Miller credit for helping him earn his “card” and the plan was for Kevin to be with him on the PGA tour this spring and summer.

However, Miller’s football break finally came about that same time after a work-out for the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks seemed willing to sign him to a contract in order to send him to the Europe developmental league to see what he could do.

Miller was ecstatic about the chance to go to Europe, particularly since he would be potentially re-united with his college coach. Logan was headed back for his second year on the Thunder staff and had told Miller he would do what he could for him if he should land in the NFL-Europe camp in Tampa in March.

There are six teams in the NFL-Europe league. All players in the league must be under contract with an NFL team and allocated to the Tampa camp for tryouts. Having a contract does not assure a player of making an NFL-Europe team.

Miller was one of eleven kickers in tryouts. Only six would be chosen to move on and receive and assignment to a European team.

Just as in the American version of the NFL, coaches and teams are trying to win and make it to the World Bowl, Europe’s version of the Super Bowl. Berlin had cruised through the league last year and won the World Bowl with a 10-1 record. That gave Logan some credibility and potentially new leverage in the league, which would prove to help Miller’s efforts.

Just weeks before the Tampa tryouts, Miller received a call from Seattle telling him the game plan had changed. The Seahawks had decided not to send him to the Europe league. Instead they just wanted him to come straight to their camp this summer.

Having not kicked in a competitive game in three years, Miller felt he needed the Europe experience to get back in the game. His agent, Ralph Vitola, and Logan both called the Seahawks and lobbied on his behalf. Logan promised to try to get him allocated to the Berlin team and made a commitment to help his former player as much as possible. That was all it took for the Seahawks’ management to reverse course again and send Miller to Tampa where he, indeed, made the Thunder roster as the team's place kicker.

All teams headed to their respective European cities three weeks ago and the season is now two games old.

“I am enjoying all aspects and trying to put up good numbers to gain attention of the NFL scouts” Miller said by email earlier this week. “At the same time, we are all competitive and we want to win the World Bowl.”

Miller is not the only former Pirate on the Thunder squad. Sean Rose, who also played during the Logan years, is a starting offensive lineman on the Berlin team. Another familiar face to Pirate fans is Berlin Quarterback Dave Ragone, who played his college ball at Louisville.

“The nice thing is all these guys were stars at their respective colleges, so everyone here has a lot of ability” Miller said. “It is a developmental league but a lot of these guys have played in NFL games and they take these games very seriously. The NFL people get all these films so nobody wants to look bad.”

Miller’s team is 2-0 but not playing the type of dominating football that helped Berlin walk through the league last year. However, the Thunder is considered one of the favorites to make it back to the World Bowl this season.

Berlin's new kicker is doing his part to make it happen. Miller’s first attempt was a 46-yarder that split the uprights in Berlin’s first win against Frankfurt two weeks ago. He was 3-3 that day. His finest moment came at the end of the Thunder’s game this past Sunday when Miller was called on for the game winner and nailed the 37-yarder to give the Thunder the victory over Hamburg.

The season is young but Miller is already attracting the kind of attention he needs to turn some heads. He is second in scoring in NFL-Europe and seems to be making the most of his opportunity.

Many prominent players on NFL teams today went the Europe route. Miller is hoping he is the next NFL-Europe player to get a chance to play on Sundays in the fall.

He is off to the kind of start that could help him do just that.

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02/23/2007 10:16:15 AM

 

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