Through the Uprights
Kicker Samantha Miller Is Making History With the Avon High School Football Team
Photographer / Amy Payne
It’s not often that you see a 5-ft., 110-pound player on the football field. But the Avon Orioles are thrilled to have Samantha Miller, a junior at Avon High School (AHS), be a part of their program. Miller, 17, didn’t pick up the sport until middle school. Her game of choice since age 3 had always been soccer. But she had a lot of guy friends who played football and one day she wondered if her soccer skills could translate to kicking for the football team. She asked her parents, Sue and Paul, what they thought and they said, “Go for it!”
Two months later, she joined the Avon Middle School North (AMSN) football team and during her first year playing, she met Mark Hagee, a kicking coach who had worked with guys in the NFL all the way down to third-graders. He taught her the proper techniques for football kicking.
“It was an adjustment at first,” says Miller, noting that kicking a football and kicking a soccer ball are quite different — a whole different ballgame, as they say — literally.Two months later, she joined the Avon Middle School North (AMSN) football team and during her first year playing, she met Mark Hagee, a kicking coach who had worked with guys in the NFL all the way down to third-graders. He taught her the proper techniques for football kicking.
“Kicking a football doesn’t come as naturally so I had to train a little more outside of practice,” Miller says. “It’s harder mentally than physically.”
Hagee calls her a natural.
“I always tell Sam that she’s good, period. Not good for a girl,” says Hagee, who applauds Miller’s willingness to listen carefully to what he says and employ it.
“She institutes what I tell her. Plus, she’s very athletic. That’s a good combination,” says Hagee, noting that Miller doesn’t get fazed or rattled. She tries and if she doesn’t succeed, she tries again.
“That’s the hardest part about coaching — getting a kid to understand that if it doesn’t work the first time to be patient and keep at it until you figure it out,” Hagee adds. “That’s a huge aspect of a great athlete.”
Though Miller was initially nervous to join a football team, she quickly gained a network of support.
Joseph Romero, a junior on the team, remembers the first day of middle school ball when Miller was the talk of the school.
“A girl playing football,” Romero says. “Sheesh, everyone was in doubt. But the first time we saw her kick a football and it soared through the goal post, everything changed. Respect was gained and she became part of the brotherhood instantly.”
Teammate Clay Peters, a junior, also remembers the moment when some teammates recognized Miller’s talent.
“During practice one day, Sam had to go against one of my friends in a drill,” he says. “He was skeptical about going against a girl, however she was able to hold her own against him. That’s when I think we all knew that she was just like us and that Sam would be able to get the job done.”
Though Miller has learned a lot on the field, some of life’s greatest lessons have been passed on by her parents.
“They tell me that in the long run, no one will remember if I miss a kick,” Miller says. “They remind me not to work myself up over the little things because in five years, no one will remember them, not even me.”
But there are the “big things” that are forever seared in her mind — like last season during the sectional game when Coach Bless told her, “If we score a touchdown here, you’re going in.”
“I had my helmet on for 10 minutes because I was pretty sure we’d score,” says Miller, who took 10 practice kicks. Before going onto the field, Hagee told her, “Just do what you know how to do.”
She smiled and replied, “I’m good.”
Miller may have appeared calm, but she admits that it was nerve-racking knowing that all eyes were on her. She got up to the line, took her steps, and looked up at the field goal to aim.
“I don’t remember anything else except making it,” Miller says. All the players began jumping up and down.
“It was truly an emotional event for the whole team,” Hagee says.
During her freshman year, Miller scored more than 40 points, and last fall she was named Indy Star’s Football Player of the Week.
Miller plays varsity soccer from June to November and club soccer from December to May. Both Coach Mark Bless and her soccer coach, Eric Nance, have been accommodating in allowing Miller to participate in both activities.
“My coaches have been super understanding,” Miller says. “Neither of them wants me to have to choose one sport or the other.”
Coach Bless says Miller has achieved a good balance.
“She works extremely hard, and she’s very supportive of her football teammates,” he says.
She also has to fit in schoolwork. She takes a study hall in the fall and also does homework on the bus. Life during fall semester is pretty much sports, study and sleep. But she couldn’t be happier and more grateful.
“I feel bad for all the people who don’t get to be a part of Avon football,” says Miller, who greatly appreciates all the offensive and defensive heavy work her teammates do to create an amazing football program. “What they do enables me to be on the field for goals and extra points. They are a great group of guys.”
Through the years, other girls have tried football but ultimately didn’t stick around. Miller understands that it’s not for everyone though she suspects more may want to try it but let fear hold them back. Miller encourages everyone to push past those trepidations.
“If you think you can do it, you might as well try — especially in middle school and high school because that’s the time to try new things,” Miller says. “At some point, it’ll be too late.”
Miller first got into sports to keep up with her big brother, TJ, a senior who is on the tennis team.
“I always wanted to do whatever he was doing so if he was playing soccer, I played soccer. If he was playing basketball, I did, too,” says Miller, noting that being close in age helped her develop mental fortitude.
“He’s always pushed me to try harder,” she says. “If we’re working out together, it’s always, who can run the fastest or lift the most?”
Teammate Romero not only appreciates Miller’s fierce spirit but also her optimistic attitude.
“There’s not one time I’ve seen her without a smile on her face,” Romero says. “She brings positivity everywhere she goes, especially on the field. Seeing her progress as my friend and a player is astounding. She went from playing kickball with me in first grade to being the first girl in Avon history to put points up in a varsity football game. With two more seasons of football ahead, I can’t wait to see everything else to come.”
Neither can Hagee, who maintains that Miller has yet to reach her peak.
“She’ll just keep getting better,” he says. “I can give her pointers, but she could do it without me. I’m just glad I get to be a part of [this journey].”
As for the future, Miller thinks she’d like to pursue a career in the medical field, perhaps pediatrics. Then again, she recognizes that she still has time to navigate her best life path.
“I could change my mind completely,” she says.
For now, she’s just keeping her eye on the ball — and kicking it.