Toward the end of last school year, Jason Miller anxiously approached both Billings Senior soccer coach Zach Robbins and football coach Chris Murdock.
The junior had been a two-year varsity kicker on Senior's football team. Now he wanted to give a second fall sport a try: Soccer.
To his surprise, both Murdock and Robbins agreed.
"I was nervous because I didn’t want to get turned down or maybe throw anything away. I was scared, but both coaches were really understanding and they’re friends so they were able to talk to each other more than other coaches would,” he said. “They really helped make it work.”
Miller has been playing soccer since he was 10 and it is his favorite sport, but he had always played in the spring, with the Magic City Soccer Club. He wanted to play for the Broncs but didn’t want to let kicking for the football team go.
Both coaches made expectations of Miller clear, and he's followed through according to their plans. Double duty has treated him and the Broncs well.
“It was stressful at first, but once I got the hang of it and just got into a good schedule and just really planned everything out it was way easier,” he said. “It was awesome. First year coming into (soccer) the guys really accepted me.”
Miller said a partially torn Achilles tendon at the beginning of the summer forced him to miss some offseason workouts for both. His recovery dipped into the school year and he missed the first game of Senior’s football season.
Senior Keaton Anderson was doing the kicking duties for the first few weeks, but an injury kept him out of the Broncs' matchup with Great Falls. Miller, who originally was limited to kickoffs, took over on field goals and extra points.
He didn’t miss a beat.
“Jason made all of his (extra points) and we continued to go with the hot foot,” Murdock said. “I just feel really comfortable with either of them out there.”
Murdock said he’s had years where his didn’t have that kind of reliability at kicker, and it’s a good problem to have with two.
Miller, who missed only one football game because of a conflict with the soccer schedule, was prepared for his moment.
“It was exciting and I was happy. I was ready to go, especially after sitting the whole summer with the injury,” he said.
For Robbins, Miller was a welcome addition.
“I was fine with it,” Robbins said. “It worked out pretty well. There are certain (football) practices where he’d specifically kick and so he’d do that and then come to practice a little late, which was fine with me.
Soccer players transitioning to kickers for football teams isn’t new, but it was Robbins' first time dealing with such a case.
“I’ve heard of it happening before, and people always ask ‘Why don’t some of your soccer players kick for the football team.’ I never really had an answer for that, but it works for me,” he said.
Miller said the best part of doing both sports is meeting new people and building relationships with his teammates. The majority of his soccer teammates were new faces to Miller, and he had to learn how to mesh.
His role on Senior’s soccer team was different, too, because he came off the bench. He starts on Magic’s club team.
“It was tough at first because I wasn’t getting as much playing time as I maybe wanted. but I was the new kid coming in so I understood,” he said.
The mental aspect of football kicking appealed to Miller the most. He said the challenge of learning the art and correcting himself makes it fun.
“It’s like golfing,” he said. “Just the motion, and the mindset. It’s pretty much all mental.
“You see huge kickers in college, like 300 pounds. They’re not in good shape but they have the good form and mentally they’re strong,” he said referencing Joey Julius, the kicker from Penn State who weighs 258 pounds.
Mental toughness is important to Miller, as kickers need short memories. Last year against Bozeman, Miller's 27-yard field goal as time expired was blocked as the Hawks won 20-19 and eventually secured home-field advantage for the playoffs.
Bozeman ultimately won the Class AA state championship over Senior.
“I just try to stay positive,” Miller said. “There’s always another kick. Usually I know what I did wrong and I can go through my head of what I can do better next time.”
Miller has only had one field goal attempt this season, a 30-yarder he missed. But he has had plenty of extra-point opportunities.
“Our offense keeps scoring. I’m OK with it,” he said, laughing.
Senior has steamrolled its way into the playoffs, going 10-0 and winning all but one game by more than 20 points. Miller said the team’s experience from last year’s runner-up finish has helped this team prepare for the task at hand.
He admitted he was disappointed for finishing fifth at state in soccer after all of the work the team put in, but added that there is an important lesson he learned as he enters his second fall postseason.
“Don’t take anything for granted,” he said. “This team is great and I’m super stoked for the postseason.”