Four years ago the University of Colorado football program recruited a beast of an offensive lineman known as a bulldozer run blocker from an in-state school 30 miles to the south.
Every major program in American recruited him. He was named a Parade All-American as a high school senior. It was a recruiting coup for the Buffs to keep him home and it signaled to other recruits that it was time to consider the Buffs again after several years of scandal had tarred the program.
Ryan Miller expected to have more wins than losses to remember when he reached his senior season, but it hasn't worked out that way. He sat on the steps of the Dal Ward Center on Thursday afternoon on the cusp of the first practice of his final fall in Boulder, reflecting and looking ahead.
He regrets nothing. He still considers himself fortunate, despite coaching changes, losses and criticism he and his teammates have experienced. He doesn't really have an idea why all the top in-state offensive linemen have committed to other programs this year, but he hopes they reconsider and come to Boulder as he did. He believes in black, silver and gold more now than ever.
"Never, I would do this 10 times out of 10," Miller said when asked if he ever wished he had picked a different program back in 2006. "This is Colorado football and this is where my heart and passion and desire is. You look at the Flatirons, you look at McCartney and Dal Ward and Fred Folsom and Joe Romig. This school has tradition and can compete with the best. There will be a time that Colorado football will be feared again and it's going to be soon."
Miller doesn't consider that a prediction for this season. He simply believes the program has a quality coaching staff that will eventually lead it back to prominence. Maybe it happens quickly. Maybe it takes a few years. Either way, Miller is confident it will happen after spending the past nine months being schooled in the art of being a Buff by some of the program's great players of the past, two of whom are now leading the program -- head coach Jon Embree and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy.
The new staff is doing its best to institute a family feeling around the program. It is an approach Miller and his teammates have embraced and seemed to be hungry for in the past. Embree believes it was a key part of much of the success in the 1980s and 1990s in Boulder. Where it leads these Buffs remains to be seen.
"I don't think we felt like a team sometimes," Miller said of previous years of his career. "We may have been, but I don't think we melded as a team. We melded as position groups, but we didn't meld as a team."
Miller will achieve a rare feat this fall becoming only the ninth player in Colorado history to earn five letters in football. His sophomore season in 2008 was cut short when he suffered a broken leg in the fourth game, but the NCAA restored eligibility by granting him a medical redshirt that season.
At the outset of this season, he is considered a pro prospect that many NFL teams will be keeping an eye on. College football analyst Phil Steele named Miller a first-team All-American this summer. He also was named to the preseason watchlists for the Outland and Lombardi Trophies.
All of those honors come despite the fact Miller hasn't been able to play to his strengths for much of his career. He has played in offenses with more of a finesse approach and schemes that focused more on passing than rushing. He isn't the world's best pass blocker, which is why he moved inside to guard after initially playing tackle in college.
The new coaching staff has turned back the clock to emphasize the running game and a smashmouth approach that has served the Buffs well in the past. It's a very familiar style for Miller. He made a name for himself as a run blocker at Columbine High School under coach Andy Lowry in an offense that used four basic plays most of the time.
"I definitely think it suits me better," Miller said. "I'm a lot better at going forward than going backward. The whole mindset early on has been physical, physical, physical and that's how it's going to be. I guess that's what has been ingrained in my system since high school."
It would be a surprise if Miller isn't named a team captain in 2011. No player on the Colorado roster has more experience. He will start the season with 35 games under his belt and a string of 24 consecutive starts. Both numbers are team bests and he is coming off an offseason in which he was named the Iron Buffalo Award winner, which is given to the player with the best overall numbers in the weight room.
Miller said if he could determine one outcome for his final season, somehow guarantee it would happen, it wouldn't be a win over Pac-12 powers Oregon or USC, a trip to the postseason or accolade-laden senior year for himself.
"Cohesion," he said. "Whether it be cohesion as an offense or a defense, cohesion on the offensive line. What I want most, what is number one on Ryan Miller's wish list is for people to understand that they are not playing a team. They are playing a family."