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Former Boise State football player sees himself in newest NFL star

UPDATED: Sat., May 12, 2018, 12:17 p.m.

BOISE – Few can understand the challenges faced by Shaquem Griffin better than DaWuan Miller. And few who had never even met Griffin were as happy when he was taken last month in the NFL Draft.

Like Griffin, Miller does not have a left hand.

Both became defensive starters in college – Griffin at Central Florida and Miller at Boise State. From 1992 to 1995, Miller played cornerback for the Broncos in their final years in Division I-AA.

Miller began following Griffin’s playing career when the linebacker was the American Athletic Conference’s defensive player of the year in 2016. When Griffin was taken in the fifth round by the Seahawks, it was a special moment for Miller.

“When I first saw him, I had to show my kids how he played. I just hoped he’d get an NFL shot,” Miller said. “I was so excited for him. It sounded similar to my story. Anybody that is born different, the world can be a cruel place, but both of us, no one treated us differently, and we were able to let our abilities speak for themselves.”

A senior real estate manager at Lamar Advertising in Boise, Miller is married with two daughters, ages 11 and 9.

He had 163 tackles, broke up 38 passes and grabbed five interceptions in 43 regular-season games for Boise State. His first career interception was returned for a touchdown as a redshirt freshman against Montana. In the 1994 Division I-AA playoffs, he had two interceptions – including one in the national championship game loss – and six pass breakups.

Though he never got a chance at the NFL, Miller played for the indoor Idaho/Boise Stallions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“There wasn’t a big market for a one-armed defensive back,” Miller said with a laugh. “But to see Shaquem get his opportunity, I just think it’s good for society in general.”

Miller was a star in football, basketball and baseball at Battle Ground High in southwestern Washington before he came to Boise State. He said he was expected to catch a ball, dribble or throw just like anyone else, something that helped his growth.

But of course, there were doubters, which hit home when he read an open letter Griffin wrote to NFL general managers in March.

“I feel like all the boys and girls out there with birth defects … we have our own little nation, and we’ve got to support each other, because everybody in this world deserves to show what they can do without anybody telling them they can’t,” Griffin wrote.

Said Miller: “Where he’s at now, even when I was at Boise State – it was a chance to prove those people wrong who said you can’t do it because you don’t have a hand or whatever, or prove that those people that believed in you were right. I’m sure I opened some eyes. There were people like, ‘How is he going to do it?’ Then I did it, and they were like, ‘Oh, damn.’”

Playing with what some would consider a major handicap – Miller would stabilize the ball with the stub of his left arm and grip with his right – proved to be inspirational. That’s been the case for Griffin, too, as many young athletes with missing limbs have used him as a role model.

During Miller’s redshirt season in 1991, he was asked to visit a kid at a Boise hospital who had lost his arm in an accident. He said the boy was afraid his life was all but over, but Miller made sure to let him know that humans are very adaptable. A few years after his Boise State career was over, Miller finished his degree. At graduation, that young man, wearing a prosthetic and enrolled at the school, thanked him for the visit about a decade before.

“I knew people were always going to be looking at me, so if someone looked up to me, I tried to take that in stride,” Miller said. “I think myself, Shaquem, we were made this way for a reason, and I’m more than happy if it’s to inspire.”