Noelly Miller has not always been as tough as nails.
In his first years playing football, the superstar receiver hated the brutal physicality of the game. Those fears followed him into high school. “I remember I used to be terrified of being hit,” Miller, now a junior, said. “My freshman year I tried to get out of bounds and got hit and I remember thinking ‘this sucks’. But this year, I don’t even feel like I’m playing until I get hit.”
Toughness is just one of the areas in which Miller has transformed his game. Last year, he emerged as the top target in a prolific passing attack orchestrated by offensive coordinator Chris Papadopoulos and led by then-junior quarterback Grant Saylor. The result: Miller enjoyed one of the best seasons in school history, earning All-County honors and leading the county in receiving yards as just a sophomore. The sudden success caught Miller off guard, but it was certainly well-earned.
The breakout season has proven to be no fluke as Miller has dominated opposing defenses. He has the most receiving yards and receiving touchdowns of any player in the county by a wide margin and has been one of the main reasons why the Patriots, now 5-2, are in position for their first playoff berth since 2008.
Miller’s highlight reel-quality catches have become a frequent sighting at the Patriots’ games, but his best and most clutch play was his game-winning touchdown against archrival Churchill last month. Trailing the Bulldogs 32-31 with less than a minute left in front of a roaring home crowd, the Patriots charged down the field in a frantic final drive. A couple quick completions brought the Patriots inside the Churchill red zone and the Churchill defensive backs chose to double team receiver Elijah Trent, leaving Miller in one-on-one coverage.
Saylor, now a senior, fired a dart to a leaping Miller in the end zone and the star receiver held on. The final score: Patriots 39, Bulldogs 32, in one of the most memorable games this school has seen.
“The kid has ice in his veins,” junior defensive back Alec Yassin said. “When it’s clutch situations, he wants the ball. And when he gets the ball, he makes a play on it.”
Miller won’t be stopped anytime soon. Among his goals are becoming the school’s all-time leader in receiving yards and touchdowns, breaking the team’s eight-year playoff drought, and playing college football in Division 1. At the current level he’s playing, all three seem more than attainable.
Off the field, Miller is a fan favorite. “Noelly Miller” chants are common at the Patriots’ games and this year he was a nominee for the junior homecoming court. Aside from putting on the pads, Miller enjoys playing guitar and watching his team, the Redskins, play on Sundays. He also pays attention to the NFL’s Patriots and their receiver Julian Edelman, who Miller models his game after.
After one and a half spectacular seasons, Miller has put all of Montgomery County on alert. He is determined to push the Patriots back into the playoffs, and prove his place among the Patriots’ all-time greats, even if he has to absorb a few hits in the process.