Seldom, if ever, does a Rye Garnet lose what is seemingly the most important game of the season only to emerge three months later covered in glory. But that’s what happened to football senior captain and quarterback A.J. Miller this year. His team lost their opening game to Harrison by a score of 21-14, before reeling off ten wins in a row. They capped off the season by beating two-time defending champions Maine-Endwell 28-7 for the Class B State title.
For his efforts leading up to that title game earlier this month, the Rye High senior captain was nominated for the Lions Club Athlete of the Month Award for November by Head Coach Dino Garr. “A.J. is a leader with a commitment to excellence,” wrote Garr in his nomination. “He’s a competitor, dedicated to the team, and a quarterback who’s earned the trust of his teammates by making so many good choices.”
Asked how he was different from the player who, with his team, failed to bathe in the Brook in early September before leading his squad to the number one ranking in the State in December, A.J. replied, “The difference is the calmness I felt in my 25th game starting at quarterback compared to the 12th, which was the Harrison game.
“Of course,” he added, “our team had some injuries early on which affected our play. When we all were on the field — after starting the season 2-2 — we really came together.”
For the season, A.J. completed 70 percent of his passes, including 22 touchdowns. He finished seventh in the State, passing for nearly 2,600 yards. Next year, he hopes to continue playing football — Syracuse, Columbia, Tufts, and Dennison are his top college choices.
Football isn’t the only sport A.J. plays; he’s an All-League pitcher and outfielder for the Garnets. In ninth grade, when he was a student at Fairfield Prep and the football season was cancelled because of the pandemic, his mother urged him to go out for the cross-country team. He wound up third in the two-mile in the New York State Catholic League. “My mom had a great idea.”
Athleticism runs in the Miller family. A.J.’s father, after being a three-sport varsity athlete at Rye High, played Division 1 football at James Madison University. His brother, Carson, was a starting cornerback for the Garnets this year as a sophomore.
This fall, A.J. was also the recipient of the Chris Mello Award, which is given in memory of the outstanding Rye High student/athlete who died in the September 11th attacks.
A strong performer in the classroom as well, A.J. was inducted into the National Honor Society last spring. His favorite subject? “It would have to be Mr. Krajca’s A.P. Language class. We read ‘Friday Night Lights’ and ‘In the Heart of the Sea’ by Nathan Philbrick, about a whaling ship rammed by a sperm whale in 1820. Mr. Krajca’s discussions are always interesting.”
When he’s not in the classroom or on an athletic field, Miller is racking up service hours. He has over 200 so far in his high school career. “I really like working with kids. One of my favorite activities was the Playland Rainbow Run for grades K-6. Contestants show up with a white T-shirt, then they douse you in all kinds of colors and you run a lap around Rye Town Park.”
Winning the Athlete of the Month award earns A.J. Miller an invitation to the annual Lions Club awards luncheon at which the Athlete of the Year is announced.