Without the internet or even Forrest Davis, high school juniors and seniors weren’t household names before they ever put their John Hancock on college scholarships.
But had it all been different, Bill Miller would have been.
At the time, Georgia Tech was the be all to end all of college football riding a 31-game winning streak, and they wanted Miller.
Miller, though, would never make it to play for Bobby Dodd.
A knee injury at the end of his junior season set about a different path for Miller, one that turned out all right — maybe even better some say.
But more than 50 years later, Miller’s accomplishments — without a senior season to add to them — still stand as one of the better athletes in Calhoun County. Miller, who passed away in 2008, will be inducted posthumously into the Calhoun County Sports Hall of Fame and is part of a six-person class.
Miller made his impact at Ohatchee as a freshman earning a nod as an honorable mention at end. But that was just the beginning.
The 6-foot-2, 200-plus pound junior made first-team as a sophomore and was named to first-team All-State by both the Birmingham News and the Birmingham Post-Herald.
“He was faster than he looked,” said Echols Bryant, a first-team all-county selection at Alexandria Miller’s junior season. “But the bulk of it was determination. He didn’t have a zipper in his chest, so, you couldn’t look at his heart.
“I think the desire and heart and want to play and prove he could play was the biggest part of it.”
As a junior, Miller led Ohatchee to an 8-0-1 regular-season finish and into the annual Turkey Bowl against Anniston.
In that game, the Indians suffered a double loss.
In addition to falling to the Bulldogs, 27-7, Miller’s athletic career came to a close. In addition to football, it ended Miller’s basketball career only having played his freshman and sophomore seasons. On the hardwood, he routinely scored more than 20 points — back when teams only scored 40.
As a freshman he was named to the Calhoun County All-Tournament team, and as a sophomore he led the Indians to the sixth district tournament, where he was an All-Tournament selection as well.
Attempts to surgically repair the ligaments in his knee were unsuccessful and any further hopes of participation in athletics were dashed.
“I had always wanted to play college ball and professionally and I thought I had the talent to do it,” Miller said in an early 1980s interview. “I had made up my mind when I was young and had nothing in the world, that I would be able to make something of myself in some way.”
And that Miller did.
After school, he had a couple of job offers. He went with Hewett Studios in Ohatchee, which made school pictures. Before long, it was Bill Miller Photography, a company that takes school pictures in fives states for more than 900 schools.
Bill Miller Jr., who will accept the award tonight for this father, said his father’s athletic career never was talked about much growing up.
“To him it was all in the present day that we were in,” Miller Jr. said. “Like in the county, he just followed everybody in the county. Didn’t talk about how they were or anything like that.
“The only thing we really know about him is from the article and stuff.”
And even with the advancements that have been made in medicine since the 1950s, it was never dreamed about out loud whether or not today’s techniques could have kept him in the field of play.
“Actually his injury probably put him on the career that end up with in life,” his son said. “It probably would have went a whole different direction if they’d been able to repair it.
“But sports is what led him to be successful in the business world — because of the discipline and the dedication that it takes.”
For those that played against him, there’s little doubt in any of their minds that Miller would have went on to be a successful college football star. In Bryant’s mind, there’s even less than little.
“We were talking one time and I told him, ‘You’re fortunate. The good lord smiled on you,’” Bryant said. “He said, ‘Sure did. He sure did.’”
Bran Strickland is the sports editor for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3570 or follow him on Twitter @bran_strickland.