Juneau-Douglas High School senior Jake Miller signed an NCAA National Letter of Intent on Monday to play football for the University of Minnesota-Crookston this fall, becoming the first Crimson Bear to sign a scholarship offer this year.
Miller, who is 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, earned first-team all-state honors at tight end this season and also earned honorable mention all-Cook Inlet Football Conference honors as a defensive end. While initially recruited as a tight end, Miller said there's a possibility he may be able to play defense for the Golden Eagles.
"Most likely I'll only go one way, but I'm not sure where yet," Miller said. "If given the chance to play both ways, I will go for it. I'm not going to turn down playing time."
"We think Jake is the best prospect at tight end we have," said UMC head coach Scott Oliver, who has a 36-35 record at the school. "He's big, he's fast and he's aggressive on defense so we know he can block. He's the best one we've found. We think with Jake we recruited him at tight end, but he can also be a defensive end."
Minnesota-Crookston is making the move up to NCAA Division II from NAIA and last fall played as a provisional member at the NCAA Division II level. The Golden Eagles are members of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. UMC posted a 4-5 record and tied for fifth in the NSIC last year, going 4-7 overall.
Crookston, Minn., is located in northern Minnesota and is about 21 miles from Grand Forks, N.D., which is the home of the NCAA Division II champion University of North Dakota. The Golden Eagles play the Fighting Sioux as one of their non-conference games each fall.
"The thing that attracted me to the school was the possibility that I could play right away," Miller said. "And being in Minnesota, I have family there. They were always interested in me when they started recruiting me, and they always returned phone calls when they said they would. I liked that the school was smaller (about 2,000 to 3,000 students), because I wasn't sure if I wanted to go to a big school."
Miller is one of 40 high school seniors and junior college players to sign scholarship offers with the Golden Eagles this year, and he's the second Alaskan. Quarterback Jason Simmons of Dimond High School has also signed to play at UMC this fall.
There are three returning Golden Eagles from Alaska, sophomore tight end Nick Buzby of Wasilla, freshman defensive lineman John Fillman of Glennallen (who graduated from Colony High) and freshman defensive lineman Matthew Gittlein of Wasilla.
Even though there are already several Alaskans at UMC, and more are being recruited (including Juneau's Brett Fairchild and Zac Campbell), Miller said that wasn't a major factor in his decision to sign with the Golden Eagles.
"Supposedly there are some other people from Anchorage they're looking at, too," Miller said. "But I'm not sure that was really in my decision. I wanted to to have a realistic chance to play as soon as I got on campus, and they told me they want me to catch the ball."
Miller said he plans to major in sports recreation management at UMC.
"I want to become a coach down the line," Miller said. "I want to stay around sports because that's one of the things I like the most."
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.