Ryan Miller of North Linn is The Gazette's 2018 Male Athlete of the Year

July 8, 2018 | 8:00 am
North Linn's Ryan Miller at North Linn High School in Troy Mills, Iowa, on Wednesday, June 20, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Chapter 1:

TROY MILLS — There’s some kid who played baseball at either Hudson or Don Bosco who cheesed off Ryan Miller three years ago. Miller doesn’t remember exactly which school the kid was from, just that it was one or the other.

The seemingly innocuous comment that came from his mouth ordinarily wouldn’t be considered inflammatory, yet it struck a chord. Really torked the recent North Linn graduate.

 

“I was running at second base,” Miller said. “The shortstop says to me ‘Your last name is Miller.’ I was like, yeah. He was like ‘Do you know Nicole Miller?’ Yeah, she’s my sister. He was like ‘Ah, living in the shadow.’ Yeah, thanks for that, man. I will always remember that.”

Nicole Miller was The Gazette’s 2015 Female Athlete of the Year. She’s going be a senior at Drake University, where she plays basketball.

Her brother carved his own immense athletics path at North Linn. Nothing like excelling at four sports and lettering 16 times to prove your familial worth.

Ryan Miller has been selected The Gazette area’s 2018 Male Athlete of the Year.

“When Ryan won his state long jump title (in May), I emailed (track announcer) Mike Jay and said ‘It’s his senior year. If you can sneak in that it’s Ryan Miller, brother of Nicole, there might be a 20-spot in it for you,’” laughed North Linn football and boys’ track and field coach Jared Collum. “He got it in there, and it was hilarious.”

Chapter 2:

We're the Millers

The Millers are the first brother-sister combo to win Athlete of the Year, awarded each year via vote of Gazette sportswriters and sports department members.

“When I was a freshman, and she was going through her best seasons and everything, it would be like ‘Oh, you’re Nicole Miller’s brother,’” Ryan said. “I really did not like that at all. So from my freshman year onward, I kind of set out to say ‘Well, I’m going to make my own legacy.’ I didn’t want to live in her shadow any longer than I had to.”

“For the record?” Collum said, when asked which sibling he thinks is the better athlete. “As an all-around athlete, Nicole’s gonna be mad at me, but I’m going to go with Ryan.”

You can just imagine him with the fist pump after reading that, not that there’s any animosity going on here. Dave and Sheri Miller have a very tight-knit family.

Dave and Ryan are big into tractor pulls, for instance. Ryan used to videotape each competition his dad would participate in, recording his pull distances.

Now Ryan does the driving. The Millers live on a farm outside Walker.

 

Ryan will attend college in the same city as his sister, playing basketball at Grand View University in Des Moines. He got the opportunity this year to play on the same football, basketball and track teams as younger brother, Austin, who will be a junior at North Linn.

“That was cool,” he said. “In football, he played a lot more than in basketball. Just because we were so good with our first five, he didn’t get to play much. Football, he’s definitely got to learn. He probably doesn’t have the work ethic that me and my sister did. But he’s got the body type, being 6-foot-1 or so. I’m mad about that. I need that height.”

Ryan is listed at 5-11, though that might be fudging it a tad. Not being the biggest never disuaded him from playing football, where he was a receiver as a junior and running back as a senior.

He holds North Linn’s single-season and career receiving marks. Collum said Division III colleges recruited him as a slot guy.

With his quickness, work ethic and uber-competitive nature, you could see him being a good smaller to middle-weight wrestler, too, a sport he did growing up. The belief is he’d have been a state placewinner had he gone the mats route, though hoops always was in his heart.

“He was good at wrestling. Real good,” said North Linn boys’ basketball coach/athletics director Mike Hilmer. “I told him at a young age that ‘Look, I am not a guy that is going to pressure kids on what they should do.’ I told his parents that, too. I just don’t think that is the right thing to do. So I told him ‘You make your decision, and I will support you.’ I knew he’d probably play basketball anyway because he was so good.”

Chapter 3:

'This is my life'

Hilmer would take his son, Jake, Miller and others in their age groups around the state to play in youth basketball tournaments growing up. The prowess of Miller and Jake Hilmer (a junior who already has set the state’s career assists record), in particular, meant the team almost always had success, no matter who they were playing.

That included beating teams from Cedar Rapids and Des Moines. North Linn finished 28-1 this past season, losing only in the Class 1A state championship game to Grand View Christian of Des Moines.

Only recently has Miller watched a tape of that game, which the Lynx lost by three and were held to 46 points, 44 under their state-record average.

“I would definitely say that game was the best moment of my athletic career and the worst one at the same time,” he said.

 

Athlete of the Year finalist Ryan Miller was a four-sport athlete who made his mark most in basketball for North Linn. He accumulated 1,757 points(including 249 3-pointers) in leading the Lynx to third- and second-place Class 1A state finishes as a junior and senior. He captured the 1A state championship in the long jump (22 feet, 3 3/4 inches) this spring and was third in the 400-meter hurdles. A first-team all-state baseball selection as a junior, he entered his final season with a .330 career batting average with 194 runs scored and 110 RBIs, plus a 22-10 pitching record. A two-time all-district football player, he rushed for 1,546 yards and tallied 1,266 receiving yards and scored 30 career touchdowns. Miller will play basketball at Grand View University.

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This successful prep journey will come to a conclusion sometime in the next couple of weeks or so. Miller is a pitcher-outfielder for a North Linn baseball team that’s 36-3 as it heads to the postseason.

In the regular-season finale last week against Monticello, he set the state’s all-time stolen-base record (214). Hilmer set the state record for most runs.

“Ryan’s a fun kid to be around,” said North Linn baseball coach Travis Griffith. “Constant energy and finds a way to keep things entertaining on bus rides, locker rooms, dugouts, and even mound visits. An ultra-competitive kid that hates losing and failing at anything. We will obviously miss his talent at North Linn, but I will miss the kid even more. He has a huge effect on everyone around him, a very infectious personality.”

Miller credited his close friendship with Jake Hilmer for helping them both become better athletes. The duo have been hanging out since they were in second and third grade, playing basketball games in the Hilmers’ basement.

Hilmer is just a junior and has to be considered one of the favorites for next year’s Male Athlete of the Year award.

“People say ‘Well, all your success came in 1A.’ I hate that,” Miller said. “You go to a big school, you still have the opportunity to play four sports ... What me and Jake do, we’re in here all the time. And it makes it all worth it, all the hours and sweat we put in. It’s crazy. I can’t even imagine how many hours I’ve been in this gym. People would probably say to get a life. But this is my life.”

Ryan Miller, At A Glance

Full name: Ryan Donald Miller

Birth date: June 10, 1999

School: North Linn

Family: Parents, Dave and Sheri. Sister: Nicole. Brother: Austin.

High-school accomplishments: Earned 16 varsity letters in four sports: five in baseball, four each in basketball and track and field, and three in football. Was the 2018 Class 1A state long jump champion, North Linn’s first individual state track and field champ since the 1970s. Holds school records in long jump and 400-meter hurdles. First-team all-state outfielder in baseball in 2017. Is two away from setting the state’s all-time career stolen-base record (is at 210) and is fourth on Iowa’s all-time list of runs scored (252). First-team all-state guard in basketball this past season, helping team to 1A state runner-up finish. Holds North Linn records for most career points and 3-pointers. Rushed for 1,009 yards and 12 touchdowns as senior football running back. Had 1,100 yards and 11 TDs rushing and receiving as a junior. Holds school marks in single-season and career receptions.

Future plans: Will attend Grand View University and play basketball, majoring in business management.

Final voting

The Top Five:

1. Ryan Miller, North Linn (8) 47

2. Blair Brooks, Marion (1) 41

3. Tyler Linderbaum, Solon (1) 31

4. Levi Usher, Cedar Rapids Prairie 15

5. Austin West, Iowa City West 13

First-place votes in parentheses

• Meet the Male Athlete of the Year finalists

Others receiving votes:

(alphabetic order)

Drew Adams, Mount Vernon

Nelson Brands, Iowa City West (1)

Evan Flitz, Iowa City West

Others nominated:

(alphabetic order)

Kyler Bell, Cedar Rapids Jefferson

Braxton Bolden, Cedar Rapids Jefferson

Brady Bunten, Cedar Rapids Washington

Jacob Dykes, Iowa City High

Bryce Esmoil, West Liberty

Jeremy Fopma, Marion

Brayden Frazier, Cedar Rapids Jefferson

Ben Hedinger, Linn-Mar

Henry Hoogland, Springville

Zach Jones, Iowa City High

Isaac Judge, South Tama

T.J. Kuennen, Cedar Rapids Jefferson

Gabe Lux, Cedar Rapids Xavier

Matt Peng, Linn-Mar

Ben Sarasin, Cedar Rapids Kennedy

Austin Smith, Midland

Connor Van Scoyoc, Cedar Rapids Jefferson