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Miller Is Into Different Racket : Long Beach Tennis Player Calls Audible on Career

May 10, 1985|JOHN PENNER

Once the playing days of a football player have ended, occasionally he will continue in organized athletics by venting his energies in the direction of another sport.

Such physical sports as rugby, soccer, wrestling, baseball and basketball are common choices for such endeavors.

Craig Miller is an athlete who recently underwent just such a transition, but his case is slightly peculiar.

During his athletic career at Foothill High and Saddleback College, Miller was an outstanding quarterback and all-purpose kicker, with prospects of continuing on at the four-year level.

Along with his talents in football, however, he combined an unlikely interest in--of all things--tennis.

Having since abandoned his pursuit of football glory, Miller is currently the No. 5 singles player for Cal State Long Beach, the 20th-ranked tennis team in the country. As a junior, he has compiled a record of 30-5 this season, often substituting in the No. 4 and 5 spots.

Larry Easley, Long Beach coach, believesthat by next season, Miller has the potential to be the 49ers' No. 1 player, and eventually could emerge as one of the top 50 amateur players in the world.

"He's a very talented person," Easley said. "He's playing No. 5 for us, but potential-wise he could go as high as (No.) 1. I've held him back a bit this year because I want him to get his confidence. In fact, he's upset at me because he knows--and I know--that he easily can be No. 2 right now, it's just that those guys have more experience."

Although Miller has played tennis since he was 9, his preoccupation with football throughout high school and junior college put limitations on the amount of time and energy he could invest in his court game.

In the fall of 1980, his senior year at Foothill, Miller was named to the first team all-Century League as a kicker and second team as a quarterback. He also did the punting for the Knights.

He was also the Knights' No. 3 singles player and an outstanding doubles player his junior and senior seasons. He was an all-league performer both years.

In addition, Miller was a four-year letterman on the Foothill soccer team. He was first team all-league in his junior and senior years and played in the 1981 Orange County All-Star Game. In fact, he originally thought that his future would be in collegiate soccer.

"As a senior in high school, I thought I'd get a soccer scholarship," Miller said, "because I started for four straight years, so I thought it was my best sport."

Despite his accomplishments as a soccer player, no colleges showed any interest in him.

"I didn't get one letter or phone call or nothing," he said incredulously. "In fact, I was on the Orange County All-Star team and I scored the only goal for our team, but I didn't even get offensive player of the game."

Saddleback College had showed an interest in Miller as a football player during his senior season for the Knights. So, realizing he had no future in soccer, Miller chose to play football for the Roadrunners.

As a freshman at Saddleback, he handled the kicking and punting chores as a backup quarterback. In his sophomore year, he moved into the starting role as quarterback and continued as the kicker. He was an all-Mission Conference selection at both positions.

In tennis, Miller was all-conference as the Roadrunners' No. 6 singles player in his freshman year. Initially, he didn't participate in tennis as a sophomore because he had planned to transfer in the spring of 1983 to a four-year school to play football.

"I was hoping to get a football scholarship," Miller said. "I had a good year, so I thought I'd get some offers. So I hadn't expected to play tennis that semester."

But halfway through the tennis season, he still hadn't received a solid offer to play football, so he joined the tennis team. He had played only five matches when Cal Poly San Luis Obispo finally offered him a scholarship to play football.

When asked about his experience at Cal Poly, Miller hesitated for several moments before responding: "It didn't work out. I didn't get along with the coach too well, and they didn't seem that interested in me. I didn't think I had a good shot at playing that much."

So he returned that fall to Saddleback to complete his AA degree, still searching for a school at which to play football. It was then that UCLA contacted him, showing considerable interest in him as a kicker.

"It was pretty funny because I was trying to get accepted at UCLA--and they seemed really interested in me--but San Luis Obispo didn't seem to care," he said. "They were very encouraging (at UCLA). They felt I could walk on."

But Miller's frustrations continued when his application to the UCLA engineering program was refused, despite a 3.5 grade-point average, Miller said.

Fortunately for Miller, he had prepared an alternate plan.

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