ORONO — Katley Joseph, a ball-hawking cornerback for the University of Maine’s football team, walked slowly to the sideline, shaking his head.

Seconds earlier, wide receiver Andre Miller had got the best of him, running a post pattern from the right and catching in-stride a perfectly thrown ball by Joe Fagnano for a long touchdown pass in the Black Bears’ first practice of the season.

Joseph, playing for the first time since suffering a knee injury last November, was upset with himself, but also glad that he was covering Miller. He knows the only way he can get back to his high level of play is by going against the best. And Miller, the Old Town native, is as good a receiver you’re going to find in the competitive Colonial Athletic Association this year.

He is Maine’s most dynamic player, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound burner, someone who can physically manhandle smaller defensive backs, or simply run past bigger ones. In his career, Miller is averaging 17.9 yards per catch and has 11 touchdown receptions in 28 games. Joseph, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound senior from Ottawa, said Miller provides a great challenge for any defense.

“When you look at him, he’s pretty tall and pretty big so a lot of people might think he’s slow off his release,” said Joseph. “That’s not true. First off, he’s an incredibly hard worker. And when he goes out, he can run any route, give you any kind of release. Obviously he’s a bigger dude and he can be more physical, but he can also be a smooth guy. So you’ve got to play him right, you’ve got to play him true, you’ve got to be patient. Sometimes you’ve got to play him hard.

“What makes him so tough is that he can do it all. He can block, he can line up in the slot, he can line up outside. When you go out there, you’ve got to have the right mindset to try to stop him. If you don’t … it’s going to turn out bad.”

Miller, 23, is also the face of Maine high school football on this year’s Maine roster. He’s the kid who grew up seven minutes away from the Orono campus and has succeeded at the NCAA Division I level.

“I’m pretty proud of him,” said UMaine head coach Nick Charlton. “He’s a great example of what guys from the state of Maine can accomplish. He’s talented, people know that. But his hard work and what he did to get to this level, I don’t think I’ve seen that before.”

Even Miller has a hard time believing his good fortune. “I mean, when I think about it, at times it blows my mind,” he said.

Andre Miller (6) of Old Town celebrates with East teammate Hayden Craig of Bucksport after earning a first down during the 2016 Lobster Bowl in Biddeford. Miller caught seven passes for 207 yards and four touchdowns in a 58-52 East victory. Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald

Coming out of Old Town, he was one of the state’s great football secrets. While people in Old Town certainly knew who he was – he led the Coyotes to the Class C North title as a senior – the rest of the state had no idea how good he was until the 2016 Lobster Bowl, when he caught seven passes for 207 yards and four touchdowns in a 58-52 East win.

The Black Bears were interested in Miller, but he did not qualify academically to play Division I football. So he went to Husson University, where he played football for a year. Still Division I dreams persisted – Miller and his high school quarterback Jake Jarvis would often go to Alfond Stadium and run pass routes after the Black Bears finished practicing, once, he remembered, as the UMaine was getting its team photo taken in the stadium bleachers – so Miller enrolled at Eastern Maine Community College in 2017 to concentrate strictly on academics.

Finally, in 2018, he enrolled at Maine and walked onto the football team. Slowly he worked his way into the offense. In his first game, the eighth of the 2018 season, Miller caught three passes for 64 yards, each catch helping set up a touchdown. That year, he would finish with 16 catches for 287 yards, his breakout game coming in the Football Championship Subdivision national semifinals when he grabbed nine passes for 129 yards, including a 47-yard touchdown.

In 2019, he caught 28 passes for 529 yards and four touchdowns. Last spring, when he was selected as a team captain, he caught 21 passes for 348 yards and six touchdowns. He was an all-CAA first-team selection last spring and was Maine’s only all-CAA preseason first-team pick this year.

Miller has two of the three longest receptions in Maine history – the longest, of 90 yards, and another of 87, both touchdown passes from Fagnano – and of his 11 career touchdown passes, seven are of 20 yards or more.

“He’s somebody who can lead this team and carry the load,” said Charlton. “We have a tremendous amount of confidence in ‘Dre and I often confide in him. Your players need to drive your program and I feel very confident going to him. And now he has to continue to be singularly focused on his job.”

Miller, who graduated last spring with a degree in kinesiology and physical education and is taking graduate classes now, said his selection as captain last year meant as much as anything he has ever accomplished on the field.

Andre Miller was a walk-on to the University of Maine football team in 2018. By this spring, he was selected a team captain. Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald

“I think back to when I was transferring in,” he said. “If you told me in 2017 that I would be a team captain and that other stuff, I wouldn’t believe you at all. I don’t know how to explain it, really. I just love these guys around me. We have a lot of leaders on this team … a lot of self-motivated, hungry guys. It’s easy to lead those guys.”

As impressive as his statistics are, Miller’s rise as a leader is more so. He has become someone the younger players lean on when they have questions. His work ethic is unquestioned. And he is someone who takes every snap, whether in practice or in a game, personally.

“Right now, he’s becoming a real leader,” said Fagnano. “The way he led this team in the spring and now, it’s just cool to see.”

Charlton points to the spring season, when Maine got slapped around 37-0 by Delaware in its opener. Miller caught just three passes for 32 yards. After, said Charlton, the two had many conversations, not necessarily about football, but about being a leader and in the spotlight because he was from Maine.

“We talked about the weight of what it means for him to be playing here, about who he is and how he needed to step into that role,” said Charlton. “I told him what he needed to focus on and that was to play football. And the following week was one of the best games of the spring of any wide receiver in the conference.”

Miller caught eight passes that week for 144 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-34 win over Albany.

“Everyone leads in different ways, my way is leading by example,” said Miller. “I come out every day and go 100 miles per hour. Sometimes I don’t say a lot, but not everybody does. Deshawn (Stevens) was that vocal guy in recent years and that was kind of fitting for his position (linebacker). It’s just about doing my job, really.”

Miller has NFL dreams but he tries not to get too far ahead. In fact, when asked about his goals this season, he said he wants the Black Bears, who went 6-6 in 2019 and 2-2 last spring, to get back on top. Maine was picked to finish ninth in the preseason CAA poll.

“I want to make the playoffs and make some noise,” he said. “Whatever individual statistics come with that, I’ll take. But ultimately I want to win and go far.”


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