Smallest of the small Size no deterrent: 'Killer Miller,' all 4-11 of him, is the smallest player at the state's smallest football-playing school

September 24, 1995|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,SUN STAFF

HANCOCK -- Kevin Miller puts his football pants on, one leg at a time. Though both legs probably could fit into half the pants.

Miller's jersey hangs on him like an Art Donovan hand-me-down. The shirt hides his knees; the short sleeves brush against his forearms.

His cleats (size 6 1/2 ) are the smallest in memory at Hancock Middle-Senior High. He rattles around inside the helmet they gave him. And those shoulder pads, well . . .

"They're bigger than I am," says Miller, a 90-pound freshman.

At 4 feet 11, he's the smallest player at the smallest football-playing school in Maryland.

Hancock, a rural, blue-collar town in Washington County, can barely muster a varsity team. This year's Panthers squad numbers 17, some of whom play every down. Their iron-man streaks go unreported. Last week, one lineman played with a 102-degree fever; another took the field with his left eye swollen shut from poison ivy.

"They're hard-nosed kids," says Hancock coach Steve Campbell, whose team lost its 18th straight game Friday, 34-8, to Westmar of Allegany County. "There just aren't enough of them to go around."

The junior varsity is smaller still -- 13 players, including Miller. An injury decimated last year's 11-man JV team, which disbanded after one game.

At Hancock, no one who wants to play is turned away, including Miller, a determined 13-year-old who looks more like water boy than wingback.

In his debut, Miller fielded the opening kickoff cleanly and raced 12 yards down the sideline before being buried alive.

"I got nailed by two huge people -- well, bigger than me, anyway," Miller says. "Then I jumped up, and everyone slapped my helmet and said, 'Good job.' "

The kudos strengthened his resolve to play.

"I just want to do something for the school -- and make something of myself," Miller says.

"Last year, I felt like a nobody. Now? I'm not a wimp anymore."

Miller basks in the good-natured banter surrounding his size.

"I can't remember the last day Kevin wasn't razzed about his shortness," Campbell says. "There's so much shirt hanging loose under his arms that when his hands are raised, he looks like a bat.

"When I need to address the team, I tell the other kids to 'take a knee'; I tell Kevin to stand up."

Even school administrators like to tease the littlest Panther.

"Kevin triples in size, when he's in uniform," says Boyd J. Michael, Hancock principal.

Never mind that he's too small for his britches. Miller's strength isn't height, but heart, teammates say.

" 'Killer' Miller? Tough kid," says senior running back Gary Quackenbos. "Most guys his size wouldn't think about playing football."

Miller's size is conspicuous even at Hancock, where two-thirds of the squad is under 6 feet, and one-third weigh no more than Muggsy Bogues.

The town of Hancock is nestled in the narrowest part of Maryland, a craggy strip that connects the western counties to the rest of the state. Its location has stunted the growth of the school (pop. 200, grades 9 through 12).

"When I took this job, I knew this was a small school, but I didn't know it was this small," says Campbell, also Hancock's athletic director. "But in three years, I've grown a lot, just being around these guys. They want to win as much as kids at bigger schools."

Ergo, Hancock's game plan.

"We know other teams are just waiting for the fourth quarter, for us to get tired," says Quackenbos, the running back. "We try to pace ourselves. We use all our timeouts, whether we need them or not. We eat bananas to keep from cramping up. We've even stayed on the field at halftime [to conserve energy]."

Every microbreak helps stave off exhaustion, says Quackenbos, who seldom leaves the field.

"Sometimes, when you're hit, you just lay there and think, 'I could stay here all night.' You get up slowly. You learn how to time it so you don't get penalized."

Unless you're Kevin Miller, bantam back.

"Kevin bounces right up," the coach says. "I really wondered if he'd last, but he hasn't moaned once.

"He's not a bad ballplayer. When he gets some height and weight on him, he'll be OK."

And then?

"I want to play for the Washington Redskins," says Miller. "Who knows, if I keep giving it all I've got?"

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