No one deserved a moment like this more than Joe Miller.
The recent Marian Central graduate is someone who always seemed overshadowed, either by his siblings or his talented teammates.
But Miller got his well-earned moment in the spotlight Friday at the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association Boys Open Class 2A State Championships. He took sixth in the 220-pound division, winning a medal for the team state champion Hurricanes.
Miller’s sisters Emily and Katie got their share of glory with the Hurricanes in softball. Emily became an All-American at NCAA Division III North Central College, Katie was a catcher on Marian’s Class 3A regional champion in 2019.
In Marian’s wrestling room, Miller was stuck behind standouts like Caden Randazzo, Lou Gaddy and four-time state champ Dylan Connell.
Friday, however, it was Miller’s turn to shine. After fighting his way through the wrestlebacks to reach the fifth-place match against Mahomet-Seymour’s Daniel Renshaw, Miller, who previously could not crack the Hurricanes’ stacked lineup, would get a state medal.
“I busted my [butt], all year, to work hard,” Miller said. “I wasn’t even on varsity, so to place, for the first time … I’ve been wrestling since I was 5 or 6 and never even came close to this. This has been my dream, to go to state and place feels great. Feels really, really good.”
It didn’t matter that Miller got pinned by Renshaw in his final match. It mattered that he was in that match, earning himself a medal and helping the Hurricanes to a team title.
“My dad [Pat] has supported me so much, driving me and putting me to work in the gym, on the mat and everything,” Miller said. “Anytime I felt like I couldn’t do it, and like I was done, he was always there to pick me up and keep me going. There were so many times I wanted to quit, but I kept working and driving.”
Miller’s lips quivered and his eyes welled with tears as he considered his accomplishments.
Pat and Jennifer Miller were beaming Friday at the Bank of Springfield Center.
“This is the first year he’s been able to compete in the regionals on his own,” Pat Miller said. “He’s worked his butt off for the last two years. He’s put on 30 pounds of muscle. He weighed in at 193 today, and he’s wrestling at 220. The limit [for 220] was 224, so he could have been giving up 30 pounds.
“[Jennifer] and I couldn’t be more proud of him and the work he’s done. It’s all him doing the hard work. He’s done so much to get to this point.”
Miller did a lot of work at Gary Swanson’s gym in Union. Swanson is a powerlifter who turned his garage into a gym and trains young athletes. Swanson and Jace Sayler, a former NFL player from McHenry, helped Miller with his training.
Miller was one of nine medalists for Marian’s team Friday. Connell (182), Elon Rodriguez (126) and Nik Jimenez (132) were state champs, while Chris Moore (138) was a runner-up.
Connell became a four-time champ, Rodriguez and Jimenez won after being runners-up last year. Every medalist had a special story, but Miller’s was particularly uplifting.
“He went from a JV kid to a guy on the podium,” Hurricanes coach David Silva said. “I’m so happy for him.”
There’s more to the story.
Miller will fly to San Diego on Monday to join the U.S. Marine Corps. He was supposed to leave June 6, but asked his recruiter to delay for three weeks so he could wrestle in the state series.
“My dad was like, ‘Let’s push it back anyway, whether you make it to state or not. What’s the different in those 21 days?’ ” Joe Miller said.
When the entrance date was delayed, Miller made the most of his postseason chance.
“He’s wanted to go to the military since he was a little boy,” Pat Miller said. “Both his grandfathers were in the military. It’s been his lifelong dream. He talked to his recruiter and was able to get his date pushed back for him to compete. I said, ‘OK, you’ve got it now. Go ahead and make it pay.’ And he truly did.”
• Joe Stevenson is a senior sports writer for the Northwest Herald. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can follow him on Twitter @nwh_JoePrepZone.
Source: The Daily Chronicle