Heath Miller is a scary sight.
At 6-5 and 256 pounds, the Pittsburgh Steeler tight end is truly a larger than life figure.
Of course, that is nothing new for the Virginia native.
Miller may be a soft spoken guy but his actions on the gridiron have made him one of the top football players in high school, in college and is an integral part of the Steeler offense which has netted the budding superstar two Super Bowl rings in his first four years in the league.
Miller is from Richlands, Va., a rural area with a whopping population of 4,144. The median income for a family is just over $30,000 annually.
It is truly the land of the coal miners, factory workers and teachers. Little wonder as to why Miller quickly grew up to be a tough-willed individual.
At Honaker High, Miller garnered some major attention. No, not as a tight end but as a record-setting quarterback. Miller was the Group A player of the year as a senior, compiling 28 touchdowns and 2,318 total yards.
Those numbers grabbed the attention of former Virginia football head coach George Welsh who recruited him as a quarterback in 2000. Welsh was not alone, Miller also received high interest from Iowa and Virginia Tech.
However, Welsh left the program following a 6-6 season in 2000 and Miller was left at the proverbial crossroads. His replacement, Al Groh, was able to keep Miller in the Cavalier fold, but now he had to figure out what to do with the superior athlete.
Groh decided to move Miller to tight end, a gamble which certainly has paid off.
The hard-working Miller caught nine touchdown passes as a redshirt freshman, an ACC record for freshman tight ends. Soon, he became one of the most effective cogs in the Cavalier offense.
By the end, Miller's accomplishments made him one of the top tight ends in the NCAA. Miller was the 2004 Mackey Award winner, given to the top tight end in the country. He finished with the most receptions, yards and touchdowns by an end in ACC history.
In terms of the Virginia record book, Miller is second in receptions, seventh in yards and fourth in touchdowns, regardless of position.
No wonder Miller earned the nickname "Big Money" while at Virginia.
Miller was an amazing safety valve for Virginia quarterbacks Matt Schaub and Marques Hagans, providing a big target with amazing hands and spectacular strength. He always seemed to come up with the big catch when called upon.
Miller's defining college catch came in a primetime duel against Clemson in 2004.
With the Cavaliers trailing 10-6, Hagans marched the team down the field late in the first half. Virginia scored the go-ahead touchdown when Miller was able to stretch out his body and just get the tip of the nose over the plane of the end zone before a crashing defender knocked him out of bounds.
It was a play with enough touch to make any receiver proud and it gave Virginia a lead it would never relinquish. The victory propelled Virginia to a No. 5 ranking in the country the following week.
Indeed, Miller's biggest numbers came in the biggest games. Virginia's lone victory over arch-rival Virginia Tech in the Al Groh era can be explained by one single statistic.
In 2003, Miller had 13 catches for 145 yards against the Hokies, both career highs at the time. It was the second best performance statistically by a tight end in ACC history.
Virginia Tech had no answer for "Big Money" and since then the Cavaliers have still been searching in futility for a new edge.
Miller's size and stamina made him a force to be reckoned with. As a result, Big Money got a big pay when he was drafted in the first round with the 30th overall pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The hard-working, quiet kid who let his play speak for him was going to the steel city where toughness and determination are a prerequisite.
Truly, it was a match made in heaven.
Of course, nothing came easy for Miller. The young man had to prove himself all over again. Now it became an issue of proving he could block at an NFL level as well as reel in those big catches.
Miller worked hard to be a complete player and he was rewarded with an opportunity he has certainly taken advantage of these past few seasons.
In his first four years in the NFL, Miller has proven to be one of the top tight ends in the league. His consistency is remarkable, having played in 60 of 62 regular season games during that time at a position where the injured reserve list comes with the territory.
Through 64 games as a professional, Miller has recorded 23 touchdowns and over 2,100 yards.
Just how good is that?
Well, over that span, Miller has more touchdowns than New England Patriot Wes Welker, Green Bay Packer Donal Driver, Seattle Seahawk Deion Branch and as many as Dallas Cowboy Roy Williams. Not to mention he is only one behind the premiere tight end in the NFL, Tony Gonzalez.
He has taken a position that is often ignored or overlooked and made it so much more.
Miller is more than just a tight end, he is an athlete, a football hybrid that knows when he has to step up. His hands are as good as the majority of wide receivers and his speed and size make him difficult for anyone to take down in the open field.
Yet despite all his accomplishments, Miller continues to enjoy letting others stand in the spotlight. In a league full of over-sized egos and under-performing prima donnas, Miller seems content to just work hard alongside his talented teammates and collect his Super Bowl rings.
Nice work if you can get it.
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