The Centennial High product boots Eastern Washington into the FCS playoffs.

by: COURTESY EWU ATHLETICS: KEITH CURRIE - Kevin Miller kicks an extra point against Toledo earlier this season. He is 5 of 7 on field goals and 60 of 64 on extra points this season. Kevin Miller has always had a big leg. It was his ability to score from 50 yards out that caught the attention of college programs, eventually landing him a scholarship to FCS powerhouse Eastern Washington. But scoring points hasn’t been the focus during his college career — the Eagles offense takes care of that. Instead, the team relies on his booming kickoffs to leave opponents with a long road to the end zone.

Miller won the job a month into the season when it became apparent that his kicks were routinely reaching the end zone in practice.

“I had more distance and hang time than any of the guys here,” Miller said. “The kickoff team is where the team needed help, and I was willing to step in and do that job.”

Kickers are only on the field for a handful of plays each game, but they are the center of attention when it’s their time to perform.

“I remember running out there for my first kickoff and looking at the stands,” Miller said. “Everyone’s eyes are on you. Everyone is waiting for you to start the play.”

Earning playing time as a rookie was special, but nothing could compare to being a part of Eastern’s national title run in 2010. The Eagles overcame a 19-0 deficit to beat Delaware by a point.

“Just experiencing that championship atmosphere was incredible — not many players get a chance to be in that game,” Miller said. “I mostly remember how quiet the stadium was when we came back to win. The fans were in shock.”

The season also saw him score his first points with spot duty on the field-goal team where he converted a career-long 48-yarder.

After taking a redshirt season in 2011, Miller was back on the kickoff line as a junior, blasting nearly half of his attempts deep into the end zone for touchbacks.

One of the few that got returned gave Miller a chance to shine during a win over Portland State at Jeld-Wen Field.

“A guy took it out six yards deep and came sprinting up the sideline,” Miller said. “It was up to me to tackle him or at least slow him down. I didn’t want to be the last guy that let him through, so I knocked him out of bounds.”

Miller’s senior season saw him step up to double-duty on special teams, continuing with kickoffs while also being the go-to option on field goals.

The first game of the season was circled in red — a game at Oregon State. Not only a chance to face a Division I squad, but also a return to Miller’s home state.

He didn’t disappoint.

Miller banged through three fields, including a 36-yarder that put the Eagles up 29-17 at halftime. Eastern would go on to win the game 49-46, setting the stage for a season that has seen it ranked among the FCS elite.

“It was nice to come back home, knowing a bunch of friends and family would be there to watch,” Miller said. “It was a chance to fulfill one of those dreams, to go out and prove we could beat one of those bigger schools.”

The No. 3 Eagles have flown through the season with a 10-2 record and open the playoffs Saturday at home with a second-round matchup against South Dakota State (9-4).

“The dream is always the national championship, but you have a lot of little steps along the way,” Miller said.

The team’s success has limited Miller’s role, as he has been called on for field goal tries in only four of the team’s 12 games. That’s the cost of being a part of a team that ranks among the nation’s leaders in red-zone efficiency. Eastern has made 44 trips inside the 20-yard line this season and scored touchdowns on 34 of them.

Against fellow playoff team Montana, the Eagles found the end zone on all eight of their possessions.

Miller is 5 of 7 (.714) on field goals and 60 of 64 (.938) on extra points. The biggest do-or-die situation he has faced this season came in the season finale when his extra point in the final minute provided the winning margin in a 42-41 victory over Portland State.

“I’d like the chance to get into a pressure situation,” Miller said. “It would be fun to kick a game-winner.”

With the biggest games of his career on the horizon, Miller made just get that chance.

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