With 'older brother' watching, freshman CB Miller shines for Salukis

Freshman cornerback David Miller (3) has leaned on his skills from playing wide receiver to succeed this season for Southern Illinois. (Photo by SIUSalukis.com)

Whenever David Miller comes off the field for Southern Illinois, the freshman cornerback hears a familiar voice.

That constant, encouraging voice belongs to James Ceasar, the Salukis’ All-American cornerback who sustained a season-ending shoulder injury in September.

“I look at ‘Ceas’ like an older brother,” said Miller, a transfer from Navy. “He’s my guy. He pushes me every week just to keep going and keep playing. He’s going to be with me on my downs, and he’s going to be with me on my ups. He’s always going to keep me level-headed.”

Miller, who has started the past eight games in Ceasar’s absence, is certainly making his big brother proud.

On Saturday at Indiana State, Miller had two interceptions – giving him three picks in the past two weeks. He also had four tackles, including an impressive open-field stop in the red zone. Miller’s performance earned him the Missouri Valley Football Conference Defensive Player of the Week award.

Before he got to Navy, Miller mainly played wide receiver at Lincoln High School in Gahanna, Ohio, which is located in the Columbus area.

David Miller

“He never started playing defensive back until he went to Navy,” SIU head coach Nick Hill said. “He was more of an offensive player.”

Miller said when Indiana State quarterback Anthony Thompson threw a deep ball his way in the first quarter Saturday, he reverted to playing his former position.

“Once he threw it, I saw that it was underthrown,” Miller said. “I used to play wide receiver, so I can tell where the ball is going to go. I attacked the ball.”

Reading the ball in the air is one of many positives that Miller offers the Salukis.

“That’s a huge trait that some people really take for granted,” Hill said. “To be an elite corner, you’ve got to catch the ball. (Pass breakups) are good, but picks change games.”

Miller now leads SIU with three interceptions, and he has collected three pass breakups and 49 tackles, which ranks fifth on the team.

The Ohio native credits his recent play to a more aggressive mindset.

“I’m just playing more angry and less hesitant, focusing on the ball,” he said. “I’m new to the position, so I was always used to looking at the wide receiver the whole time. Feeling the ball and where the quarterback is going to throw it has been a big help.”

Those same instincts from playing wide receiver have paid big dividends in Carbondale.

“David’s got incredible ball skills,” Hill said. “He’s just scratching the surface of what he can be. He came in here this summer and has really hit the ground running. He’s still so young in playing on defense. There’s a lot of bright days ahead. I’m excited about him – his length, his speed, his athleticism. He’s got the makings of being a good corner.”

Miller said being on the field regularly this fall wasn’t a surprise, but having to step in for Ceasar was unexpected.

“I was already expecting playing time coming in,” he said. “Seeing Ceas go down and that role getting put on me, it was more motivation. He gave me the torch to keep going.”

Despite being injured, Ceasar has been a regular at team meetings and position group meetings throughout the season.

“James has been incredible,” Hill said. “He’s like another coach for us. It’s important for (Miller) being a young corner to have an experienced guy there on the sidelines talking to him.”

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