Iowa junior safety Tanner Miller was ready to become a Northern Iowa Panther three years ago.
Then two days before he signed his named to a letter of intent, Miller got a phone call.
“It was a pretty easy decision,” Miller said. “My dream was to play at the highest level possible.”
Miler has started 13 games for the Hawkeyes. Three years ago he was ready to don the purple and gold.
“It’s ironic how it turned out,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It was just one of those things where it was the next call for us.”
Miller might have been the next name on the list, but it was life-changing moment for the Mid-Prairie prep.
He had taken a visit to Iowa City just a week before, but all Iowa could offer was preferred walk-on. Northern Iowa had a partial scholarship.
“I was pretty solid with UNI,” Miller said. “I couldn’t say enough about (Coach Mark Farley) and their whole program. I’m thankful they gave me an opportunity.”
On the Monday prior to signing day in 2010, Miller got on a bus and headed to Fairfield for a basketball game.
In the second quarter, his father Brian Miller got a call from Mid-Prairie coach Pete Cavanagh saying Reese Morgan had called him and wanted his number.
Then, with about two minutes left before halftime, Ferentz called Brian Miller.
“He asked me what I thought Tanner would say about an offer to become a Hawkeye,” Brian Miller said. “I said I didn’t know. … I knew. But I wasn’t going to speak for him.
“I said I thought it sounded like a pretty good idea.”
Brian Miller kept the phone call to himself for the rest of the game and found his son in the locker room after the game.
“I asked Tanner if he had checked his phone. He hadn’t,” Brian Miller said. “He asked me why? I told him there was a pretty important call on there, ‘From who?’
“‘Well, Coach Ferentz called, and they want you to become a Hawkeye.’”
It was one of those transcendent moments in life when dreams actually do come true.
“I thought he might go down to his knees,” Brian Miller said. “He was pretty tickled with the offer. Something a young man couldn’t pass up.”
The offer finally was accepted on the bus ride home. By now, everyone in Wellman knew what was going on so when Tanner’s phone rang, the bus got really quiet.
“Ten miles out of town, between West Chester and Wellman, Ferentz called,” former Mid-Prairie basketball coach Don Showalter said. “We knew he was talking to Coach Ferentz. All of a sudden, Tanner told Coach, ‘I’d be glad to be a Hawkeye.’
“When he said that, the players let out a big roar and cheer.”
It was a night Miller won’t forget.
“It was kind of a surreal moment,” Miller said. “One I’ll always remember. I couldn’t ask for a better night.”
Then came the tough part, calling the Northern Iowa coaches.
“He understood,” Miller said. “It had happened to him before. I just wanted to be up front with him and honest.”
It wasn’t the only time Northern Iowa has been left at the alter by a recruit when Iowa swooped in late. Brandon Meyer, Allen Reisner and Mike Meyer all switched from the Panthers when Iowa came calling.
“They were great about it,” Farley said of the Millers. “It didn’t surprise me, because he was a very good player, highly recruited in our state, just a great athlete, great young man and that’s close to home.”
For being a last-minute addition to the recruiting class, Miller has proven himself. He was one of nine true freshman to play in 2010.
“Tyler Sash and Brent Greenwood took him under their wing,” Brian Miller said. “They taught him to watch film and how to be the back-end leader of the defense.”
As a sophomore, Miller started at strong safety the final 11 games and finished with 76 tackles and three interceptions.
He tied the Iowa record with a 98-yard interception return for a touchdown against Northwestern.
“Being one of the last recruits here, you have to come in with a little chip on my shoulder,” Miller said. “To be able to prove you can play at this level … my motivation since I’ve been here.”
The 6-foot-2, 201-pound junior now is a leader on the Iowa defense. A state champion hurdler and all-state basketball player, Miller fits the mold of an Iowa safety.
“There were a lot of coaches that wanted to know what his plans were,” Showalter said. “He’s a great competitor and a joy to coach.”
On Saturday, Miller will line up against the team he almost played for. Iowa hosts Northern Iowa at 2:42 p.m. in Kinnick Stadium.
“It’s just another game,” Miller said. “That’s in the past. It all worked out the way it was supposed to.”
Farley is aware of the player the Panthers missed out on.
“He’s done very, very well,” Farley said. “You always watch the ones that got away, that went to Iowa in the last seconds, and they’ve all done very, very well out there.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football