For four embattling years, Lenoir City High School’s Johnathon Miller spent countless hours working on and off the football field in hopes of one day playing at the next level.
He realized his dream after committing to Tusculum University as a long snapper.
“Whenever I played with (Lenoir City Youth Football Organization), I always looked up to the high school. I always wanted to play there and once I got to the high school level, I wanted to advance a little bit more,” Miller said. “I had somebody talk to me and say, ‘You can have a D1 player at a D2 level, so keep going and keep advancing.’ It felt like home.”
Miller caught the coaching staff’s interest earlier this year when he participated in a team camp.
“I went to a tryout up at Tusculum in, I think, February or March, and the coaches were super nice and I felt at home right away,” he said. “Once I got back from the camp after they talked to me and everything, they stayed in touch and just really made me feel like I was wanted to go there. Once they sent me the scholarship stuff, I just felt like I really wanted to go there.”
Miller found his passion for long snapping six years ago while playing for the North Middle School Panthers.
“My seventh-grade year, I was with Coach (Chris) Wampler and a couple of other coaches and I just tried to snap and it kind of worked out because I was a center when I was younger,” he said. “Whenever I tried out to long snap, it just kind of happened. After that, I went to a bunch of camps.
“All the way up until my sophomore year, I taught myself,” he added. “Junior year, I went to two or three camps and they taught me a lot about using my legs and certain workouts I could use.”
Miller was a staple in LCHS head football coach Jeff Cortez’s program over the last four years. His versatility led him to play several positions for the Panthers, including quarterback, linebacker and long snapper.
Miller totaled 40 tackles, four tackles for loss, two interceptions and a sack on defense last season. He was also named the All-Region 4-5A Special Teams Player of the Year.
“He’s done a phenomenal job,” Cortez said. “We’ve had good fortune to just be lucky with a lot of great long snappers, and he’s definitely one of the better ones I’ve been around. We went and sent some film to a number of schools and places that were looking for long snappers because I think his skill sets are perfect. He’s got a linebacker body and he can shoot that ball back there so fast and so accurate.”
Long snappers are often overlooked, but they carry a load of responsibility during each extra point, field goal and punt attempt.
“Talking to some of the Tusculum coaches, they felt like they lost a few games last year because of snapping issues,” Cortez said. “I told them that Johnathon will take care of all those issues for you for sure. It all starts with that guy, and one of the game-changers is a bad snap, a bad punt, a blocked kick-type of situation. If you have a guy that just lollipops it back there, the whole team is nervous in that moment. When you’ve got a guy that can put it back there in 1.3 seconds or whatever, it’s a huge weight off your shoulders.”
Long snappers require strength and flexibility.
“A couple of things are you have to practice it a lot,” Miller said. “There are bunch of things you could do wrong or a bunch of things like, ‘Oh, that felt weird.’ It would get back there the same one time and the next time it would be totally off, so you kind of have to find the center. You have to do certain workouts to keep it the same speed and for you to get faster and throwing it back there stronger. You also have to be really flexible doing all that because when you’re throwing the ball back to the punter, you have to be able to stretch as far back as you possibly can.”
Miller will continue to work out this summer before reporting to camp in early August.
He hopes to make an immediate impact.
“I really do want to help the team as much as possible,” he said. “I’m just hoping to get with some of the seniors and some of the juniors up there to kind of teach me and to get me a little bit smarter about the next level.”