The hype around Florida Gators quarterback Jack Miller began early.
Tim Tebow started mentoring him at age 11. A passing coach with NFL clientele predicted Miller would be the nation’s top quarterback before his first high school game. Miller broke Arizona Class 2A passing records as a freshman and had at least a half-dozen scholarship offers before his sophomore year.
“The first time I’d ever seen him throw,” one of his former prep coaches, Thomas Lewis, once told The Arizona Republic, “that was the best deep ball I’d ever seen in my life.”
The fact that Lewis — a former first-round pick who spent parts of five seasons as an NFL receiver — gushed that way about a 15-year-old shows the potential coaches have identified in Miller for years. Potential the rest of us will finally see Saturday when he makes his first career start against No. 17 Oregon State in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Long before Miller arrived in Gainesville, his physical tools stood out. He was big (6-foot-3, 190 pounds as a high school freshman) with a big arm. But what impressed his private quarterback coach, Dennis Gile, was his mental makeup — how he handled pressure, self-corrected and understood biomechanics.
“The way he was able to take that information that I was giving him and apply it to the on-field things and pick it up so fast, it was extraordinary in my mind,” Gile said.
Miller’s on-field performances was extraordinary, too. In 2016, his 53 touchdown passes and 3,653 yards were believed to be the most by any high school freshman in the country. Mike Norvell offered him a scholarship at Memphis. So did an Arizona State staff that included offensive coordinator Billy Napier.
Miller was one of two quarterbacks in his class’ MaxPreps preseason All-America team. The other: eventual Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young.
In 2017, Miller helped Scottsdale’s Chaparral High break in a new stadium by accounting for four touchdowns in a 33-7 win over the defending state champions. By February 2018, Miller backed up Giles’ prediction: he was 247Sports’ No. 1 quarterback in the 2020 class.
He didn’t stay there. His trajectory took a series of hits, literally and metaphorically. Miller injured his knee as a high school junior and non-throwing shoulder as a senior, and he finished as the nation’s No. 27 quarterback in the 247Sports composite (a dozen spots below Anthony Richardson).
Miller kept his year-and-a-half commitment by signing with Ohio State in December 2019, but the Buckeyes added an 11th-hour commitment from another quarterback in his class — two-time Heisman finalist C.J. Stroud.
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Miller was stuck on the depth chart (an arrest for driving while impaired didn’t help). The Gators needed another veteran at his position going into Napier’s first season, and offered Miller a fresh start.
“I think he does come across like it’s not too big for him,” Napier said in the spring.
But he has never faced a moment like this. After Richardson opted out to prepare for the NFL draft and UF’s other top backup, Jalen Kitna, was dismissed from the team after being arrested on child pornography complaints, Miller is finally in line to start. He’s healthy enough to do it, too, after recovering from a broken thumb that sidelined him for much of the season.
Miller has not been made available to reporters since April, and his college production is limited to six garbage-time appearances at Ohio State. No one knows what to expect, especially with a surrounding cast that’s in flux from the NFL draft and the transfer portal, so we’re stuck searching through his high school record for insight. Chaparral High coach Brent Barnes offers some.
The perfectly placed third-and-10 touchdown pass Miller threw in overtime for a walkoff win in the 2018 opener. His dart from the far hashmark for a go-ahead touchdown as a senior. His miraculous scramble that led to another walkoff touchdown on the final play of his final regular-season game.
“The thing about all those, those were very, very critical moments where if you don’t make the play, you lose,” Barnes said. “I think it shows there’s not a moment that’s too big for him.”
The Gators are counting on it.
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