HAMMOND — A breakout season, including a tie for the conference lead in interceptions, earned Southeastern Louisiana junior cornerback Harlan Miller plenty of postseason plaudits and preseason acclaim.
Just don’t expect Miller, a former standout quarterback at Kentwood High School, to spend a lot of time patting himself on the back over his past achievements.
“Last year is in the past and this is a whole new year,” Miller said. “As of now I probably have a target on my back. It’s still football and you’ve got to out there to play and compete every Saturday, week in and week out and work hard.”
Miller’s progression from little-known freshman three years ago — playing in the considerable shadows of Robert Alford and Todd Washington — to first-team All-Southland Conference in 2013 to a host of national All-America honors this preseason has been a steady ascent.
The seven tackles he produced in 11 games may have hardly caused a ripple outside of the Southeastern program in 2012 but Miller learned some valuable lessons from Alford, now of the Atlanta Falcons, and Washington, a recent cut by the Arizona Cardinals, that he’s passing along to this year’s secondary.
“It was a blessing to learn what to do and what not to do from those guys,” said Miller, a candidate for the Buck Buchanan Award. “From Robert, I took his hard work and Todd was a technician which is something I’m still learning and that’s how to be technique-sound.
“When I was a freshman, I didn’t want to say too much and let the older guys teach me,” Miller said. “I learned from them and I’m just passing it down to the younger guys coming up now and the older guys as well. We all need leadership.”
Third-year SLU coach Ron Roberts said Miller couldn’t have had better mentors in transitioning from offense in high school to cornerback in college than Alford and Washington.
“We kind of spot-played him as a true freshman, and think about the two corners he was spot-playing with,” Roberts said. “He’s a great corner. He was under-recruited, but had the work ethic and ability-wise he’s an impact player. He showed that his sophomore year.”
Half of the six returning starters on SLU’s defense are in the secondary, where Miller combined with seniors Marice Sutton and Tyler Stoddard — both of whom were honorable mention All-SLC selections — for nine interceptions with four of those being returned for touchdowns.
The Lions, which ranked first in total defense, were second in passing defense with 222.6 yards allowed.
“It’s the will and want,” Miller said. “I just have fun playing football, which is something you should love to do. I just bring that energy and when your other teammates see you doing great, they want to do great also and are going to work hard.”
Miller’s ball skills, which tied him in total number of interceptions with Sutton and two other players atop the conference, also resulted in a league-best 10 pass breakups.
Moreover, all four of his interceptions came in victories, with Miller recording a pick-six of 48 yards in a 58-31 win over Central Arkansas to go along with interceptions in triumphs over Southeast Missouri (45-7), McNeese State (41-7) and Nicholls State (52-27).
“He’s the complete guy that can do it all,” Roberts said. “I expect him to be one of the best corners in our conference and a guy we can we can count on to get the job done.”
Miller also displayed the tenacity to come up in run support and proved to be a solid tackler with 45 stops — including 38 solos — for eighth overall on the team.
His season-high of eight tackles took place in SLU’s 38-17 loss at TCU and finished with seven in the 20-17 FCS quarterfinal loss to New Hampshire.
“All that’s good, but my coaches and teammates put me in the right spot to make those plays,” Miller said. “When you do good, all the accolades follow.”