Game changer: JT's Miller ready for playoffs

John Tyler's Damion Miller (8)breaks off a long run for a first down against Robert E. Lee in the first half of their contest at TMF Rose Stadium. ( Lang white / Correspondent )

John Tyler receiver Damion Miller was a bit of late bloomer in the 2014 season.

A sophomore on a team loaded with talent (14 went on to play college ball), the receiver didn’t make his first catch until the fifth game of the year.

Nonetheless, Miller had a huge second half of the season, especially coming alive in the playoffs to finish with 614 yards at 23.6 yards per catch, best ratio of anyone on the team.

With the playoffs set to start on Saturday, the Lions are looking for even more from Miller.

“I expect bigger things this year because I had that experience last year so I know how it’s going to be,” Miller said. “I’m going to step it up even more this year.”

Miller, a 6-2, 191-pound junior, committed to Texas over the summer based on his explosive, big-play ability. Last year nearly a third of his catches went for touchdowns, including an 83-yard bomb against McKinney North that helped set the tone in a 64-40 victory in the state quarterfinals.

Miller had 131 yards and two touchdowns on three catches in that game.

“Anytime you’ve got a type like that you can make a playmaker out of him because he has all the physical tools you need to teach to that type of person,” JT coach Ricklan Holmes said of Miller’s commitment to Texas.

With a combination of size and speed, Miller is tough to catch in the open field and just and hard to bring down when he comes short. It’s his shorter route running that’s been his biggest improvement this year from last.

This year Miller leads the Lions with 769 yards and seven touchdowns, with three 100-yard games and another 99-yard performance. He has already caught eight more passes than last year without a significant drop in yards per catch (22.6).

“He was a deep threat last year; really the only route he had was a fade route and a post route here and there,” Holmes said. “But now he’s learned how to run a combination of routes and that’s made him a better receiver.

“(Defenders) all know he’s fast, so a lot of people play off of him and they’re giving up the underneath, but once he gets the ball in his hands, he makes people miss.”

It helps that Miller and quarterback Bryson Smith, also a junior, have known each other since going head to head in Pop Warner. Teammates at middle school and friends off the field, their chemistry on the field is evident.

“He knows how I am, how my play type is,” Miller said of Smith. “If he throws it out there, he knows I’m going to get it, he trusts I’ll get it.”

Last week against Nacogdoches, Miller did just that with four catches for 113 yards, including receptions of 42 and 58 yards. This despite going against one of the top-ranked safeties in the nation, Brandon Jones.

“Even though he’s like the No. 1 safety, I’m a good receiver too,” said Miller, ranked the No. 2 receiver in Texas by scout.com. “I wanted to challenge him to see how we compare to each other.

“He’s a player and everything, but I think I got him.”

The Lions won the game 28-16 to claim the District 16-5A title outright. Next up for JT is Texas High at 2 p.m. Saturday from Longview’s Lobo Stadium.

Miller started his playoff tear in that same stadium against the same team last year with two catches for 57 yards. He had at least two catches in the final six games of the season, including a team-high three catches for 47 yards in the season-ending loss to Aledo in the state semifinals.

With a knack for big plays - his first career touchdown was a 43-yard screen pass to tie the game late against eventual state champ Ennis last year - Miller is hoping for plenty more postseason games in which to terrorize opposing defenses.

Plus, he’ll have an entire senior year to rack up even more big plays.

“With what he brings to the table this year I expect him to be a lot better next year,” Holmes said.

TWITTER: @TYoestingETFS

LIONS TALES: Tickets for the John Tyler-Texas High game will be sold on campus to students and faculty Thursday and Friday. Additional ticket sales will be at the TISD athletic office (807 W. Glenwood) Thursday from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. and from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. on Friday. Presale tickets are $6 for adults and $4 for students. Gate tickets cost $8 for general admission.

Closer Look

Damion Miller by the Numbers

Year 2014 2015

Catches 26 34

Yards 614 769

Touchdowns 8 7

Yards/Catch 23.6 22.6

Yards/Game 40.9 76.9

Catches/Game 1.7 3.4

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