BY JACK KIZER| Ball State Sports Link
“I just try to go out and do my job.”
Riley Miller isn’t flashy. He’s not ostentatious, loud or gaudy. He’s a wide receiver for Ball State University who works hard and gets the job done. This personality is rooted in Miller dating back to his high school days.
He led Yorktown High School (just a short 10-minute drive from Ball State’s campus), as well as the entire state of Indiana, in receptions and yards his senior season in 2014.
Despite the impressive numbers and conference/state honors he was awarded, Miller ended up as a preferred walk-on at Ball State in 2015.
After a redshirt season and limited action during three games in 2016, Miller continued to work tirelessly with opportunities opening at the top of the depth chart in 2017. A bigger role was coming for him, even with the “walk-on” title still hanging over his head.
That all changed on August 17.
During a typical drill at the end of practice, Miller lined up against freshman safety Josh Miller with all of their teammates watching. Out of nowhere, Head Coach Mike Neu blew his whistle, walked up to Miller, and said: “Here’s the deal. Riley Miller, congratulations on earning a scholarship.”
Teammates proceeded to mob the newest Ball State scholarship athlete and the video went viral. He recalled how he just couldn’t process what was happening for about a minute because it all happened so fast.
Riley Miller lined up for the mid-practice competition this morning. It's safe to say we think he won…#TrueCardinal @rifri11 @BSUCoachNeu pic.twitter.com/HbKBxwVPmD
— Ball State Football (@BallStateFB) August 17, 2017
Even though Miller’s financial situation changed that day, the hard-working, get-the-job done player inside of him remained.
In an interview with The Muncie Star Press, Miller stated, “My mindset is going to stay the same. I have to go out and do my job. I work hard to be successful because I know I’m not the fastest guy out there, the strongest guy. I have to work on technique and everything like that because I want to be successful as much as anybody else. I’m going to try to do everything I did to get here and keep going.”
Miller’s roots didn’t change. They put him in the position to start Sept. 2 at Big Ten opponent Illinois and were also found in his pre-game and post-game processes.
Friday, September 1:
After an entire offseason of training and preparation, the team buses carrying the Ball State football team depart for Champaign, Illinois at 1 p.m.
The bus carrying Miller and the rest of the offensive players has a movie playing with a general sense of relaxation percolating throughout the team.
For Miller though, this is an opportunity to study for the game approaching in less than 24 hours.
“I believe you can’t know enough,” Miller said. “So every chance I get, I’m trying to study more and learn more.”
Approximately three hours later, the buses arrive at the University of Illinois with an early 11 a.m. CT (12 pm ET) kickoff looming the next day.
Saturday, September 2:
Gameday. Miller wakes up at 6:15 a.m. to get ready for the team breakfast starting at 7 a.m. He consumes his normal pancakes, eggs and hashbrowns, filling his stomach for the big day ahead.
Just before 9 a.m., the buses pull up to Memorial Stadium.
As the players get situated in the locker room, Miller puts on his cleats and gloves and walks out onto the field. Listening to a variety of hip-hop and rap songs, he strolls around the currently calm stadium, trying to get a feel for what his new environment will be like for the day.
He takes this a step further by receiving passes from all different spots and angles on the turf, to try and adjust to the multitude of views he may encounter in just a couple of hours.
Following warm-ups and slipping into his full gear, Miller is one of many gathered around Coach Neu. A short yet inspirational message to the team precedes the moment of truth. Gametime.
Illinois 24 Ball State 21
In his first career start, Miller collects seven receptions for 86 yards, leading the team in number of catches and total receiving yards.
An unwritten statistic intertwined into his performance is multiple receptions on third down.
Despite the solid showing from Miller, Ball State is unable to hold off Illinois and loses its first season opener in seven years.
After the clock hits zero, Miller jogs back into the locker room with thoughts spinning in his head of what he and the team could have done differently to change the outcome.
“We were upset,” Miller said. “We felt like we had it. We felt like we could have and should have won it. We just had to finish.”
Those thoughts from Miller are echoed by Coach Neu during the post-game speech in the locker room. The mental and physical healing process then begins for the team.
Miller high fives several teammates as he takes off his equipment before an ice bath. Plays and alternate realities flash through his mind, but he does his best to ward them off and not dwell on them.
On the way to the bus, he stops to talk with is parents, girlfriend and high school receivers coach who were able to make the trip. It was a normal conversation and asking their thoughts on the game to soothe the sting of the defeat. Miller says goodbye and proceeds to the same bus he arrived on.
The ride home begins about 4 p.m. and ends at 7 p.m. CT (8 p.m ET). The time zone switch doesn’t faze the players as they’re already tired from the previous 36 hours. Miller’s day ends with him heading home, watching more college football on TV and going to bed early, knowing that his body needs rest.
Miller is in a different situation this season, performing as an upper classmen and the team’s leading wide receiver with 11 games still out in front him. But his current and former high school teammate, Riley Neal, expects nothing to change on Miller’s part.
“Consistency,” Neal said. “That’s what everyone uses to describe Riley. He may not always result in seven catches for 80 plus yards, but he’ll play a part. Whatever it is, he will do his job and I’m looking forward to seeing him excel.”
The key portion of Neal’s statement is: “…he will do his job.”
Neal, teammates and the coaches who awarded him a scholarship know what’s going on — and will go on — inside of Miller’s head throughout the season. He’s dialed in on just going out and doing his job.
NOTE: Dialed In is a new series from Ball State Sports Link which tells the story of Ball State athletes’ pre-game and post-game processes. Each week, a different player is interviewed and highlighted here on chirpcitybsu.com.