October 29, 2009 8:16:00 AM
Adam Minichino - email@example.com
WEST POINT -- Doss Miller didn''t have time to think.
On one play, Jake Orman was in his usual spot as running back.
The next play, Orman was on the sideline nursing a shoulder injury.
A change of possession gave Miller time to process the fact he now was the Oak Hill Academy''s go-to running back, but it didn''t make the thought of taking on that role any easier.
"At first, I didn''t know if I could do it," Miller said. "I was kind of skeptical. I gained the confidence as we went on and did what I could to play as hard as I could."
Miller has erased any doubt he would be able to handle the workload. It''s not uncommon for the 5-foot-3, 165-pound junior to carry the football 30 or more times in a game. Most times, he was responded with a stellar effort, like last week when he rushed for 211 yards and a touchdown in a loss to Marshall Academy.
Miller will need to deliver a similar effort at 7 Friday night when Oak Hill (3-7) plays host to Winston Academy (5-4) at Raider Field.
The game will decide which of the 2-0 teams in Mississippi Association of Independent School AA District 2 will earn a championship and the district''s top seed.
Miller has done his part to help the Raiders earn their first playoff appearance since 2006. The chance to win a district title is believed to be the program''s first chance to win a championship since it won a state title in 1990.
Miller has rushed for more than 900 yards since Orman, who had 500 yards rushing in the first three and a half games, was injured in the game against Leake Academy on Sept. 11.
Oak Hill Academy coach Leroy Gregg said Miller shouldered even more of a load last week with Sam Rice stepping in at quarterback for Davis Clayton, who was injured in the game against Kirk Academy on Oct. 16. Rice rushed for 88 yards on 13 carries last week, but there was no secret that Miller was -- and is -- the Raiders'' primary rushing threat.
"We rep our kids in practice every day and everybody gets a lot of totes," said Gregg, who is in his second season as head coach. "He just moved from a wing fullback position back to the running back position. It wasn''t like he hadn''t done it before."
Gregg said Orman is a little quicker than Miller, so the Raiders tried to get Orman outside more to exploit his speed. He said the Raiders didn''t change much after the injury to Orman, save for cutting down on the number of plays. He said the improved play of the offensive line has helped Miller find holes to keep the offense moving.
"He has made the transition very, very well," Gregg said. "When he was a sophomore last year, we played one of the best teams in the state in our last game. We were down to 17 kids because of injuries and he had 77 yards against Mag Heights on about 10 carries. It was against their ones (first-team defense), and I knew he was going to be a really good player for us."
Miller rushed for more than 100 yards in the second half against Leake Academy. Gregg said Miller can get lost running in between the tackles. He also said Miller "has no fear" when it comes to trying to gain yards against bigger defenders.
Miller said he doesn''t have time to think about the size disparity between him and defenders. If he did consider it, it wouldn''t matter because he said he enjoys contact and he is just apt to try to run through an opponent.
"I try to run the ball hard," Miller said. "Jake is faster than I am, so he got around them. I try to run through them and get my pads low. I already have the advantage because I am 5-3. I try to hit them as hard as I can and try to get a few extra yards."
Miller said he admires the running style of former Pittsburgh Steelers great Jerome Bettis. Nicknamed "The Bus," Bettis was a physical runner who was able to plow through defenders on the way to the end zone.
Like Bettis, Miller has a low center of gravity, which makes it hard for opponents to wrap him up.
"I love contact," Miller said. "That is the main part about football."
Miller credits the offensive line for opening the holes and his teammates and coaches for believing in him. He said he only job is to find the holes and to "get the stats." He hopes to pile up some impressive numbers and win a championship Friday regardless of whether he''ll have to run on a dry or a wet field.
"It feels good (having an opportunity to play for a championship)," Miller said. "I knew we had a little bit of depth, so I knew people could step in when people got hurt. We have done a good job of it so far being undefeated in the district."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.