For four years, Eastern Washington punter Jake Miller has heard the cheers, the sighs and everything in between – sometimes on the same play.
Booming kicks that take a bad bounce into the end zone … a coverage breakdown … a capricious wind that carries the ball out of bounds.
They all affect the bottom line – the net punting average, which in turn reflects a punter’s net worth on any given day.
Miller’s stock is pretty high these days. The senior from Central Valley is averaging 47.6 yards a kick and netting 42.1 yards, fourth-best in the Football Championship Subdivision. Two weeks ago, he was named the Big Sky Conference Special Teams Player of the Week.
Already the Eagles’ leading career punter, he’s always looking for more – and sometimes a little less – when an Eagles drive stalls at midfield.
During warmups before a game “I always start with my regular kicks,” Miller explained. “Then, when I’m a little more tired, I’ll get a good gauge of how I want to kick it close in.
“I’m always working on those things: hang time and placement. There’s not a stat for that, but it makes a difference.”
Up to 20 yards’ worth. Says Eastern special teams coach Jeff Schmedding, “For a guy with a big leg like that, it’s a bit of a challenge to get it down there and keep it down there, a bigger challenge than people think.”
In other words, there’s nothing straightforward about punting, much like the path Miller took to Cheney.
Even at 6-foot-5, Miller never played competitive basketball, but found his niche punting and kicking. In the fall of 2009, Central Valley faced Ferris on a night when the Washington State coaches were checking out Saxons quarterback Connor Halliday.
“I happened to have a pretty good night,” said Miller, who had field goals of 45 and 50 yards and recovered his own onside kick in a 34-31 CV win.
He walked on the next fall at WSU, then left after one week, the victim of homesickness and uncertainty over his future. He enrolled at Spokane Falls Community College (where his father, Doug, played in the 1980s) and didn’t plan on playing again as he took a year off that he still calls “refreshing.”
That same year, he got an encouraging call from former EWU assistant Chris Hansen and opted to walk on. “I made a decision at that moment that I was going to play again,” said Miller, who admits to “hearing a lot of good things about the program.”
As for the university, Miller already knew plenty: he’s a fourth-generation Eastern student and is on target to graduate with a degree in finance.
A quick study – Miller has a 3.41 grade-point average and twice made the Big Sky Conference all-academic team – he was a starter as a redshirt freshman. His 44.2-yard punting average was narrowly off the school record of 44.4.
The following year at Washington State, Miller unleashed a school-record 74-yarder and finished the season with a 43.3 average. Last year, that number fell to 42.8, but Miller – by then a scholarship player – put a personal-best 16 kicks inside the 20-yard-line.
Along the way, only two of his kicks were blocked.
And through it all, the 22-year-old Miller said he hasn’t felt the estrangement that some specialists experience at the college level. “Everyone hears that stereotype of people shunning the kickers, but that’s not true here,” he said.
“That’s one of the things that make us a great team,” Miller said.
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