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Sunday Conversation: Boise State’s Matt Miller on mend

Editor’s Note: Matt Miller was one of the finest athletes in Helena Capital history and had a record-setting career as a wide receiver at Boise State. He earned multiple All-State awards in basketball and football during his high school days at Capital and was a four-year starter at Boise State, where he had a school-record 244 pass receptions and 3,049 receiving yards. The 6-foot-3, 213-pounder was just 15 yards away from breaking the school record for career receiving yardage in mid-October when he underwent season-ending ankle surgery. A team captain for the Broncos, Matt was on the sidelines with his teammates at the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz., on New Year’s Eve before returning to Helena for a few days. That’s where Sports Editor Scott Mansch caught up with him for our Sunday Conversation.

Question: How are you feeling physically these days, Matt?

Answer: Pretty good, actually. I have a doctor’s appointment next week in Boise and I’ll know more from the rehab point of view then. But I’m feeling really good, starting to run again. It feels a lot better than it did.

Q: What exactly was the nature of the injury?

A: A couple of things. A high ankle sprain that required fixing … Then I had two of the major ligaments in my ankle that were torn.

Q: I don’t remember you being injured very much in high school when you played for the Bruins.

A: I was very fortunate through high school and I was never hurt that bad. I had a hamstring my senior year that bothered me (in football). But when I first got to Boise State I tore my Achilles (tendon) on the last day of fall camp practice.

Q: You had such a great career at Boise State. It had to be disappointing to have your career end with an injury.

A: It was tough, to a point. But I think I could handle it better as a senior than as a freshman, when I hurt the Achilles. It’s shown me how much I’ve grown up. I tried to just take it in stride and embrace my new role as a player-assistant coach. And I couldn’t be happier with how the season ended (38-30 victory over Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl). I was very happy and pleased for my team and how we handled ourselves the entire season.

Q: I saw some comments from (quarterback) Grant Hedrick when he complimented you for the job you did as a team leader after the injury. That had to mean a lot to you, Matt.

A: Yes. Grant and I have been roommates since Day 1 and we’ve become best friends. I couldn’t be happier for him, too, with how he handled this season. With all the words said about him that were negative, and for him to step up and continue to work hard and play as well as he did … I couldn’t be prouder of the game. Shoot, he might have played himself into a (professional) career.

Q: So many fans have high expectations. Is it difficult for athletes to deal with it when negative comments and criticism come your way?

A: We’re pretty fortunate at Boise State. Our fans are the best. You don’t really get too much negative from them. But for a quarterback, especially, it’s tough to handle adversity and hearing people say stuff about you all the time. It’s part of the business, too. And really it helps you grow up as a person when you’re able to handle the adversity.

Q: I know you had plenty of college options and could have played basketball or football at big schools. Have you always been satisfied with the decision to go to Boise State and play football?

A: Yes. I’m 100 percent positive, happy, ecstatic, all those positive words about going to Boise State. I don’t regret it one bit. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, actually.

Q: What does the future hold for you on the football field?

A: I’m going to finish my rehab and start training. My goal is to get my foot in the door somewhere and try to make an NFL team. The big key right now is just to get healthy and start to train.

Q: Do you think you’ll be invited to the NFL combine?

A: I honestly have no idea. We’re kind of crossing our fingers hoping so. But even if I get invited, after talking with doctors I probably wouldn’t do the field testing. But it would be good for me to go. To get the physicals taken care of and show people that the injuries are healing. The way I look at it, if I get invited, great. If I don’t, great. I’m still going to work my tail off. It’s my goal, no matter what, to make an NFL team.

Q: Are you confident that you’ll be able to regain your speed and leaping ability?

A: My doctor has been really happy with how my ankle’s progressed. Every meeting we’ve gone to I’m a little bit ahead of the curve for healing, which is great news. He has no doubts that I’ll be able to come back and be the same type of player I was, and even build on that, and be able to play at the next level.

Q: Does it give you any confidence that so many Montana athletes in recent years have seemed to do pretty well when given the opportunity in the NFL?

A: I don’t know if it’s confidence, but it makes me proud that those guys are doing so well and giving Montana football a good name. I’m a firm believer that we have some of the best football in the country here, because of the passion and how much effort and work we put into it. That so many guys are doing well in the NFL gives me a lot of pride in them and the state.

Q: Now Matt, I hear through the rodeo grapevine that you might be a bronc rider or bull rider when your football career is over. Is that true?

A: I don’t know about riding that roughstock (laughs), but I’ve been kind of cowboying for a long time. I date a rancher’s daughter in Helena. I did a little roping in high school and will probably do a lot more when I’m done playing football. My good friends, (PRCA cowboys) Ty Erickson and Timmy Sparing, they’re not bad bulldoggers and they’ll probably try to convince me to try that too. So who knows (laughs)?

Q: Did you make it to Las Vegas to watch Ty at the NFR?

A: I wasn’t able to. But I couldn’t be happier for that guy. His first year at Vegas is the first of many (at the NFR) in my opinion.

Q: That’s pretty neat that your old high school pals are still your best buddies.

A: I’m pretty fortunate. I’ve got a lot of good friends, yet, who were my friends since Elementary School. Along with some great guys I met at Boise State.

Q: How is your Dad (Scott)? I knew him back in the day and he was a heckuva softball player.

A: Better not tell him that. It’ll go right to his head (laughs).

Q: And your Mom (Caroline)?

A: She’s doing well, too. As feisty as ever. Thank you.

Q: I’ll bet you’re really looking forward to coming months and what the future might hold for you.

A: I am. I couldn’t be more excited. There are a lot of question marks, still, but I couldn’t be happier than where I’m at and I’m going to enjoy the heck out of this process. Because I know I’m pretty fortunate to be in this spot.

Q: Dan Carpenter is another Helena man doing so well in the NFL. He’s older, but do you know him very well?

A: He had a younger brother who was my age. I’ve know the Carpenter family for awhile. We went to the Cathedral together.

Q: If you had a message to football fans in our state who are wondering about your future, what would you say?

A: That I’m going to be working harder than ever to do what other Montana football players have done in the past. To put this state on the map and try to give this state a good name. Because I’m not just representing myself. I’m representing this state. And I couldn’t be prouder to be a Montanan.

Q: What’s your team, Matt? The Packers, or what?

A: I’ve never really had an NFL team. We grew up watching Carroll College and Notre Dame. But now I’m Boise State through and through. I’ll be a lifelong fan.

Q: I know you were wearing a headset and helping coach at the Fiesta Bowl a little bit. Could you see yourself getting into the coaching profession?

A: There’s a possibility. But I believe my main goal is to get in the cattle industry one day. That’s my other passion in life. Either coaching or cows. Either one and I’d be pretty happy (laughs).

Q: I sure don’t remember your Dad in the old days ever talking about cows.

A: Right (laughs). I’m kind of the outlaw, or back sheep, in my family. No one else is the least bit interested in it. But I’ve always been and I’m fortunate to have some friends who are pretty good cowboys in that profession. They’ve helped me a lot. To be able to ride (horses) and do ranch work, it’s pretty easy to fall in love with it.

Q: Good luck, Matt.

A: Thank you very much, Scott.