Miller, Placer defense make bold statement

By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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The Placer High football team’s explosive offense isn’t often overshadowed, but after turning in an epic performance at Oakdale last Friday, the Hillmen defense is basking in the spotlight. “I have never seen that kind of defense played at Placer. I didn’t realize how athletic and talented Oakdale was until I saw them live,” said John Miller, Placer’s defensive coordinator. “There were a lot of circumstances that made it challenging for us, but I was amazed at how the kids responded. They buckled down and realized the opportunity they had in front of them.” In holding the powerful Oakdale offense to just two touchdowns, the Hillmen (7-4) earned their first playoff victory in eight seasons. They also booked a trip to Dixon, where they’ll face a defense that is touted as possibly the best in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs. With two suddenly stout defenses on the field, could we see a defensive struggle Friday night? “I think we might,” Placer coach Joey Montoya said. “Defensively, they’re as good as we’ve seen — right up there with Whitney.” Miller helped the Hillmen right the ship after Oakdale marched down the field for a quick touchdown in the first quarter last week. Placer gave up just one score the rest of the way as they stunned an offense that had averaged more than 31 points a game during the regular season. Miller said the team didn’t make major adjustments after the Mustangs’ initial score. “Our film prep time last week was short and we had some situations where we were making the incorrect calls,” Miller said. “The adjustment was to just take a deep breath and talk about our game plan. After a couple series, we started to slow them down and Jon Slane came back to the sideline and said, ‘We’ve got ‘em.’ After that, they weren’t thinking about it, they were just playing football.” Miller is not related to Montoya’s grandfather — former Placer coach Bill Miller — but he’s been by Montoya’s side since the two began coaching freshman baseball together at Placer in 2000. Montoya and Miller learned the football coaching craft under Dave Humphers at Nevada Union. They spent four years together at Pioneer in Woodland, where they built the new program into a winner almost overnight. Miller was one of the first people Montoya called when he got the job with the Hillmen. Miller graduated from Placer in 1998, one year after Montoya. “Coming back to Placer is something that we always wanted to do, it just took about eight years for that opportunity to come up,” said Miller, who played defensive back and receiver for the Hillmen. “It’s a dream to coach here with Joey.” Miller said former Placer coach Tom Johnson — who coached with Bill Miller during Placer’s glory years in the late 1970s and early 80s — had a major influence on his development as a coach. Now he’s coaching alongside John Hilton and Dennis Murphy, who coached Miller when he played at Placer. The Hillmen don’t have a big-time Division I linebacker or a monster defensive lineman on their roster. But the hard-working group has steadily improved throughout the season and turned into a strength for a team that had been mostly known for its wing-t offense. “We’ve had our moments of great performances and we’ve had some bumps along the road,” said Miller, who works as an area manager for a landscape company in Roseville. “But we’re playing our best at the perfect time. We just have a group of kids that play hard. “We don’t have that 6-5, 230-pound linebacker, but Seth Parrish, Jon Slane, Jake Lopez, Kenny Tackitt, Brad Moller and all those guys play like they’re big-time players.”