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Chargers' Miller, Family Face a Brightening Future Together

May 22, 1988|BRIAN HEWITT | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — The street gangs didn't scare Anthony Miller. Mostly, they left him alone. He was the fastest homeboy in Pasadena's Pop Warner football league. So they cut him some slack.

The knee injury his senior year at Tennessee didn't scare Anthony Miller, either. He knew right away he would need an operation. And he knew the rehabilitation would be about as much fun as an illegal chuck. But he figured he would outwork the pain. He would come back stronger and faster.

And he did.

But watching his sister sustain a seizure and almost die in his arms scared Anthony Miller. She was six years older. There was no one closer to him. Growing up together, they had shared food, friends, time, memories and a lot of love.

An estimated 3 million Americans suffer from epilepsy. According to the history books, epilepsy was the reason the painter Van Gogh cut off his right ear. There are now several reliable medications to treat the malady that occurs when nerve cells in the brain suddenly synchronize their electrical activity.

But all Anthony Miller knew the first time his sister Jamie started shaking like the leaves on a tree was that something was seriously wrong. When she began to swallow her tongue, he instinctively thrust his hand into her mouth and grabbed it.

"It was scary," he said.

Fortunately, she lived.

She's better about taking her medication now. She's gaining back much of the weight she has lost. And at 28, she's hoping to find employment as a model in San Francisco. She is the unmarried and struggling mother of a 3-year-old boy named Brandon. But she's hoping the income from her new job will allow her to visit her brother in San Diego.

"I guess I'll try to go see him," Jamie Miller says. "But the doctors say I can't get too excited."

That may prove difficult. You see, Anthony also has a new job.

Starting this fall, the San Diego Chargers will be banking on him to stretch opposing defenses by sheer dint of his world-class speed. In 1983, running for Pasadena's John Muir High School, he won the 400 meters at the CIF Southern Section meet. Two years later, competing for Pasadena City College, he was the state junior college champion in the 100 and 200 meters.

For three days, Miller has been the focal point of the rookie camp that concludes today at the Chargers' practice facility. A strained right hamstring muscle has limited his participation, but he hopes it will clear up by Thursday when the veterans report for the team's annual mini-camp.

Miller still is unsigned, but Bruce Allen, his agent, doesn't anticipate any problems. Allen says he hopes to have Miller under contract to the Chargers by the end of June.

The Chargers made Miller their No. 1 pick (15th overall) last month in the NFL draft. He is the player they hope will force the rest of the league to stop ganging up on all-purpose Gary Anderson, the team's only legitimate and consistent deep threat in 1987.

Not surprisingly, Miller is not scared.

Still, it's a tall order for a quiet, 5-foot 11-inch kid who was two inches shorter than that when he decided to go out for football for the first time. It was the summer before his senior year at Muir.

"He looked like the original Gillette razor blade," says Jim Brownfield, then the football coach at Muir. "He was just a little will-o'-the-wisp guy who was spanking wet when it came to football. But he always had a smile on his face. He was very coachable. And he could run."

Lord, could he run.

Jamie Miller's earliest memories are of Anthony dragging her out of the house to run. When that failed, he would wait for his mother, Jean Miller, to get home from the local bakery where she still works as a cake decorator. He would badger her into running with him.

"We would run around the track together," his mother says. "I enjoyed it. But I never would have gotten into it if it hadn't been for Anthony."

Jamie started calling Anthony the "Roadrunner."

By the time Anthony Miller was 11, Sonny Shaw started coming around the house on a regular basis. When Shaw wasn't working in the post office, he was recruiting neighborhood kids for his youth basketball and football teams. If there was no game on the day's schedule, Sonny would take Anthony and his friends go-carting or to McDonald's or to Disneyland or to Magic Mountain. Anything to keep them away from the gangs.

"It wasn't no best neighborhood," is the way Miller describes the area in which he lived during that period.

Sonny had no immediate family of his own. Just a grandmother and a nephew.

"He didn't even have a girlfriend," Miller says. "I guess we were his kids. I was lucky to have him. He kept me out of a lot of things."

Shaw couldn't make Miller grow. So Miller gravitated toward basketball, and he became an excellent point guard at Muir. But speed is less important in basketball than it is in football or track and field. And since Miller wanted to go to college, he decided he would have a better chance of earning a scholarship in one of those two sports.

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