Darren Miller

Wilmington’s Darren Miller speeds past a Ridgway defender in a PIAA Class 2A playoff game at Slippery Rock University last November.

At the outset of his senior year at Wilmington High Darren Miller has put up some big numbers. And not just for the Greyhounds’ gridiron program.

In Wilmington’s win over Greenville in the 2020 season-opener Miller mustered a game-high 9-carry, 163-yard, 3-TD rushing performance. He was running out of the fullback position in Wilmington’s wing-T offense, a move made for the betterment of the team.

A year ago Wilmington went 12-1, won its 4th consecutive District 10 Class 2A crown, and advanced to the PIAA Final Four. Miller emerged as the area’s 3rd-leading ground-gainer. In 179 carries he rushed for 1,396 yards (7.7 per-carry) and 18 TDs.

The willingness for Miller to move must make Greyhounds’ Head Coach Brandon Phillian feel proud. In spite of the program’s success under legendary coach Terry Verrelli (312 wins, including the 2008 PIAA Class AA championship) and his successor Phillian, players’ egos are checked at the locker room door. What’s good for the Greyhounds as a unit is good for the individual.

“The offense is running smooth with me there (fullback), so we decided to shift Luke (Edwards) to halfback, kind’ve play to our strength and our blocking (scheme). I think that was the rationale,” Miller recently related. “It’s been great! Definitely a little different at first, but I worked all summer at it and that helped me figure it out. And it helps having that line in front of you.”

For Miller to mention center Brayden Penwell, guards Morgan Whiting and Weston Phanco, tackles Jake Chimiak and Connor Vass-Gal and tight end Jordan Hess reinforces Phillian’s team-first concept.

The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Miller, at a mini-combine this past summer, was clocked in 4.58 for the 40-yard dash – pretty quick for a scholastic fullback. More than once he sprang the trap play for big gains against Greenville (29-, 31- and 43-yard scoring sprints), and admitted, “That’s one of my favorite plays. It’s been a staple in our offense and we’ve been running it forever. It worked out really well, and the guys up front made it happen, so it was great.”

Although the season-opener was delayed 2 weeks and devoid of fans at Greyhounds Stadium, players’ parents were present for a Senior Night ceremony. 

“It was surreal, that’s a good word,” Miller asserted. “It was very different, a little strange. But we were all so excited to have a Senior Night at all, we were just glad to have the opportunity and make the most of it. But without the crowd, it was a little unusual.”

In addition to unselfishness, Miller’s maturity is another admirable trait. Reflecting on the previous 6 months, he related, “Last spring when (the coronavirus pandemic) all started and everything began to shut down, it seemed like it just kept going and going. We were in quarantine and everything was locked down, spring sports were ‘chopped.’ But everyone hoped that it’d ‘mellow out’ by the Fall. No one knew that then. So all summer long we were hoping. It was a very long period – we weren’t sure, but hoping for the best and just kept working.”

The COVID-19 pandemic taught everyone to take nothing for granted, so Wilmington is working toward what is hoped for District 10 and PIAA playoffs.

“I think we’re looking better as a team,” Miller assessed before referencing how last season’s success impacted the 2020 Greyhounds.

“I would definitely say motivation. I suppose you could say ‘pressure,’ but we’ve always tried to block that out. ... We’re just going to try and be better than last year,” he said. “(2019) was a great season and we came together, but we have so many returning starters that we’re hoping to keep it rolling and keep the momentum going this season.”

With all his great Greyhounds’ grid numbers, Miller has made the most of his academics. He currently carries a 4.35 grade-point-average, scored 28 on the ACT, and is awaiting his SAT score. Though not “a hundred percent sure,” Miller said he is considering a collegiate “pre-med major, with a tract in biology. I’m thinking the medical field. I’m not set, but I think it’d be a really cool thing to do. ... I’m interested in the sciences (for his career) in general, but I’m going to keep (declaring his major) open.”

While he has not decided where he will continue his education, he would like to continue his career at the college level as it relates to football.

“I’m pretty confident that I do want to play. I’m looking for an opportunity and hopeful to play football,” Miller related. 

For now, while enjoying his scholastic senior season, Miller is focused on Farrell, which Wilmington will visit Friday night at Lou Falconi Field at Anthony J. Paulekas Stadium. Coach Amp Pegues’ Steelers are the 2-time PIAA Class 1A kingpin, but bumped up to 2A this season. Farrell’s last loss occurred almost exactly a calendar year ago, at Greyhounds Stadium (40-0).

“I can’t stress how excited I am, especially with Farrell this week. I can’t wait for this week and the rest of the season!” Miller related, while referencing Farrell, “They’re great, just a fantastic team. The state champions from last year. ... But we can’t wait. ... It makes the season that much more exciting.”

• The flip side to Wilmington’s win over Greenville is how it impacted the Trojans, and how it will continue to do so, moving forward. Greenville will welcome Sharpsville (which suffered a 41-0 setback to Farrell’s Steelers) to Stewart Field/Snyder-Stone Stadium. Against the Greyhounds, Greenville quarterback Jalen Ritzert and receiver Rufus Byler collaborated on handful of pass plays.

Characteristically, Trojans’ taskmaster Brian Herrick took the high road: “I love our kids. They have worked so hard the past six months and we are grateful for the opportunity to compete. Wilmington is a GREAT football team and I wish we had been more competitive, but we get another chance to compete on Friday and we are looking forward to the opportunity,” Herrick summarized.

ED FARRELL is assistant sports editor for The Herald. E-mail him at efarrell@sharonherald.com.