Paxton Lynch barks out signals along the offensive line as he scans the Ole Miss defense, looking for a gap.
There’s just 34 seconds remaining in the first half, and the Memphis offense has a first-and-goal from the six after a pivotal fourth-down stop by the defense on the previous Rebels possession.
The Tigers are looking to go up by two scores after falling behind by 14 in the first quarter to the Ole Miss, who is favored by double digits.
Lynch takes the snap and immediately feels pressure from his right, forcing him to sprint left.
The relentless pursuit closing in when Lynch, in one motion, squares his shoulders and darts a low bullet to the back of the end zone.
A blue Memphis jersey and a red Ole Miss jersey dive frantically in the direction of the pass. And, after a moment, a hand gripping the football is thrusted into the air.
It’s Anthony Miller. And it’s a touchdown for the Memphis Tigers.
“I really believe the Memphis fans, all the fans that came to that game and how hype it was, they really gave me a leg up on the competition,” said Miller, who finished the Ole Miss game with 10 catches for 132 yards and that six-yard touchdown. “I just felt like I had to make more and more plays. We knew there were people that didn’t believe in us before; well, we were going to make them believe.”
Miller, who has tallied 30 catches for 542 yards and three touchdowns on the season, has solidified himself as one of the premier play-makers in an offense that ranks among the nation’s elite.
But Miller’s rise to preeminence has not been without more than its fair share of obstacles to hurdle.
By the time Miller graduated from Christian Brothers High School in Memphis, he held five different school records in two different sports – which included being the all-time leader in receiving.
The 5-foot-11 190-pound wide receiver was selected to participate in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl All-Star Classic, where he scored two touchdowns.
Despite gaudy high school accomplishments, colleges, for some reason, were reluctant to offer Miller an athletic scholarship.
“A lot if colleges were coming by and speaking to me,” Miller said. “They showed interest, but they never placed that offer on the table. A lot of people are surprised when I say that, but I really didn’t have any scholarship offers coming out of high school.”
Even though Memphis didn’t offer a scholarship to Miller, they did want him to play football for the Tigers.
Miller, who spent much of his senior year of high school communicating back and forth with assistant head coach and offensive coordinator Darrell Dickey, decided to follow in the footsteps of his parents, Tony – who played football for Memphis in the mid-80s – and Andrea, and accept a preferred walk-on offer from the Tigers.
“Why not play for my hometown,” he said.
Miller redshirted his freshman year at Memphis, and he embraced the opportunity to practice with the team.
“If you get a shot at something, you might as well take it,” Miller said. “If you have an opportunity, take it and try to excel.”
Miller did just that.
His work in practice earned him the 2013 Glenn Jones Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year Award.
Heading into the 2014 season, there were high hopes for the local product, but a shoulder injury in the preseason sidelined Miller for the entire year.
“Getting injured was really a letdown moment for me because I was looking forward to the upcoming season,” Miller said. “I just love the game so much that it’s just not in me to quit football. So I rehabbed.”
Miller worked tirelessly all day every day to get back on the football field.
“All of my time was dedicated to getting my shoulder back right, and I actually came back faster than I was supposed to,” he explained.
During those difficult times, Miller said he often leaned on his father for advice and support.
“My dad was the first one to put me in some pads, and he has had a big impact on who I am today,” he said. “He taught me never to give up, and I believe that has carried onto the field.”
No scholarship offers out of high school and one season ending injury later, Miller is flourishing for the Tigers in 2015.
He finds himself ranked in the top 10 of the American Athletic Conference in four different receiving categories, and the Tigers are ranked No. 16 in the nation according to both major polls
Memphis now finds itself playing the role of the terrorizing monster, and the rest of the AAC are the angry townspeople with pitchforks and torches trying to chase them down.
“We’re hungry for more,” Miller said. “Being ranked doesn’t really mean anything to us right now. We know we have to continue to win all of our games to get to that ultimate goal of possibly playing in the playoff.”
“Our bar is set as high as it can be right now.”
Miller seemingly always turns the focus back towards the team and their accomplishments, but he did admit that he does have one personal goal.
“I really want to break Isaac Bruce’s single-season receiving yards’ record,” he said. “But if I don’t get, oh, well. As long as we continue to win games, I’ll be happy.”
Tiger wide receiver Anthony Miller celebrates his touchdown in Memphis’ 37-24 win against the Ole Miss Rebels Oct. 17.