DELHI TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- Nolan Miller had a fortuitous path to the Mount St. Joseph University football program.
Three years later, the senior defensive end would have the storyline no other way.
Miller, a 2013 Northwest High School graduate, represented the Lions with head coach Tyler Hopperton last week at the inaugural Cincinnati area small college media day at The Holy Grail at The Banks.
As the Lions’ defensive player of the year the past two seasons, Miller understands the opportunity for his senior season. Practice starts Aug. 13.
MSJ finished the 2016 season with a 6-4 record after starting 0-3. The Lions had an opportunity to win the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference until the last week of the season.
Miller, an All-HCAC first team selection, was a significant reason for that. The Lions will return almost everyone from a unit that forced 21 turnovers and allowed an average of 22 points last season. He had 38 tackles including two sacks, 8 ½ tackles for loss and three fumble recoveries in 2016.
“He’s a guy who is day in and day out very consistent,” said Hopperton, who takes over for longtime head coach Rod Huber. “Our guys and our coaches can rely on him every snap.”
That dependability goes back to his high school days at Northwest. While Miller was recruited by MSJ in high school, he opted for Division II Urbana.
Near the end of his freshman preseason campaign, he tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his knee. It wasn’t an ideal situation. The injury was tough on the freshman.
But that circumstance eventually led him back to MSJ where he was already familiar with the program. It felt like home.
“It felt more of a family than anywhere else,” Miller said. “I guess it took the knee injury to maybe realize it.”
Miller, 22, grew up an MSJ fan. His sister, Jordan Miller, graduated from the school and is now a physical therapy assistant with Tri-Health.
The school has meant so much to his life. He commutes from his home in Colerain Township.
“I’ve always been around the culture and around the school,” Miller said. “I’ve known Coach Hopp for a long time. Just being a part of the team and the organization -- it means everything to me.”
The Cincinnati area carries significance also because of his friendship with Hamilton football coach Chad Murphy, who coached Miller at Northwest.
Before Miller’s sophomore year of high school he doubted whether he could play at the next level. Murphy not only changed that thought process, but he also became a second dad of sorts.
Murphy crafted a contract that promised if Miller graduated with a degree in college he would have a spot on Murphy’s coaching staff.
“He kind of shaped me into a man,” Miller said. “He told me what was right and wrong and how to act on and off the field. That’s my guy.”
Murphy can’t say enough about the man Miller has become.
“The kid has treated my daughters as his little sisters and treats my parents to this day with hugs and handshakes,” Murphy said. “He visits on holidays. He's like the son I'll never have. His parents are near and dear to me and laid a great foundation making him the young man that he is today.”
Miller, who is majoring in health and wellness with a minor in business administration, will graduate in December. He wants to pursue a graduate assistant opportunity or delve into strength and conditioning or coaching.
“I could go on for days about that young man,” Murphy said. “A phenomenal kid. I hope to hire him in another year.”
Buffalo Bills linebacker Preston Brown was a senior at Northwest when Miller was a freshman. The two have stay connected through social media.
"Nolan was and is a great kid," Brown told WCPO.com. "He comes from a great family that was really involved in the school. He was a young leader of his freshman class. I'm proud of what he has done at the Mount. I can't wait to see what his future holds."
One thing is for sure -- he knows he’ll have a spot waiting for him with the Big Blue. Murphy has promised that. He knows Miller has the potential to be an excellent coach one day.
“It’s one of those relationships that we won’t just let die,” Miller said. “I feel strongly about that.”