Miller Named 145th Football Captain

Zach Attack
Senior safety Zach Miller wraps up a Princeton defender in a 52-17 loss.
Safety Zach Miller knows a thing or two about Harvard football.

Already, he has spent four seasons with the team and will return next fall for a fifth year of eligibility. In 2016, he nabbed a starting safety role in training camp. In 2017, he will serve as the Crimson’s 145th captain.

But four-and-a-half years ago, Miller didn’t know if he wanted to play at Harvard.

Sure, Miller had considered the possibility. He had attracted recruiting interest from several programs, including the Crimson. And Miller recognized the obvious benefits of Harvard—the academic rigor, the tradition, the dense opportunities.

The trouble was, Miller didn’t know what to expect from Crimson football. The Houston, Texas, native had grown up in a world of 4A football. Every season, the state championship took place in AT&T; Stadium—a 100,000-person arena with a retractable roof. How would Harvard football compare? What would Crimson players be like?

Miller didn’t know. So as a high school senior, he flew to Cambridge on a weekend when the Crimson was holding an intrasquad scrimmage. That’s when Miller heard captain Josh Boyd ‘14 give a pregame speech. And that’s when Miller embraced Harvard.

“He just spoke with so much passion about the game,” Miller said. “I knew that’s where I wanted to be.”

The story has come a full circle for Miller. Last Monday at an end-of-season banquet, teammates elected the senior safety as the 145th captain of Crimson football. Miller now shoulders the same responsibilities as Boyd did.

Miller’s selection marks the 14th-straight year that a defensive player has commanded the team. Ryan Fitzpatriack ‘05, now a quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was the last exception.

Traditionally, linebackers have led Harvard. Five of the last seven captains have played the position, including Luke Hutton, the outgoing captain. Miller joins Norman Hayes ‘15 and Sean Ahern ‘17 as the most recent secondary members to head the program.

In 2016, Miller faced a slew of injuries. Listed as a starting safety in the season opener against Rhode Island, he didn’t play a snap. That Saturday, he hurt his hamstring on the opening kickoff.

He remained sidelined until late October, when he returned against Princeton. The next game, though, Miller aggravated the injury and sat out the rest of the year.

The setback encapsulated the season for the Crimson, which ran into a historic avalanche of injuries. Teammates praised Miller for his ability to rebound.

“Some guys shut down after an injury,” senior safety Tanner Lee said. “He didn’t do that.”

Given last season’s adversity, Miller has limited in-game experience. He has seen action in 12 contests and racked up 15 tackles, including a personal best of five versus the Tigers. In 2016, he blocked a punt at Brown.

Miller graduated from Stratford High School in Houston, the same school that quarterback Andrew Luck attended. Miller made the all-district team twice. In 2013, as a senior, Miller captained the Spartans to a state semifinal.

When healthy, Miller can fly around the field. His 6’1” frame allows him to cover ground quickly, and four years of watching film have honed his instincts.

Moreover, Miller has made off-field contributions for the Crimson. At times in 2017, he emerged as a vocal leader in the secondary. Lee highlighted another attribute—Miller’s sense of humor.

“He’s hilarious,” Lee said. “He’s always joking around in the locker room, getting everyone going.”

Miller will replace the linebacker Hutton, who made the All-Ivy second team for the second-straight year. Also a Texas native, Hutton paced the team with 79 tackles and tied for second with three pass breakups.

More significantly, Hutton managed emotions during a trying season. Early injuries decimated the defense, and the offense lurched between two quarterbacks. Harvard finished 5-5 for the first time since 2000.

“We know this season didn’t go as we wanted it to,” said Miller in a brief speech at the team banquet. “It didn’t go as expected. That hurts.”

Throughout this storm, Hutton stood as a constant. He started all games and recorded five or more tackles in nine of them. His work ethic and measured demeanor grounded the Crimson. In the last three games, the patchwork defense held the Columbia, Penn, and Yale offenses below 20 points each.

Miller watched these performances from the sideline. He felt the satisfaction of effort and the pain of losses. Last Monday, standing behind a podium at the final team dinner, he promised a different outcome in 2017.

“We will not tire next season,” Miller said. “We will work harder than any team has ever worked to get back to where we need to be.”

—Staff writer Sam Danello can be reached at sam.danello@thecrimson.com.

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