Today I visited Miller to discuss a few book details. When he paused to take a phone call my eye traveled to the Nabokov quote stapled on his bulletin board: “The cradle rocks above an abyss. Common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.” And I wondered what Nabokov would think about having his words stapled to the bulletin board of a high school football coach surrounded by photographs of football players and next to a quote by John Wooden.
About an hour later Miller pointed to Nabokov’s quote when our conversation turned toward the topic of life’s journey. That “Brief crack of light” flashes, and at 68 Miller talked about how quickly. Our conversation morphed from there into one about kids and how he can’t catch them all, as much as he wishes he could. Every year there’s a talented football player who just won’t settle down enough to work on his grades even though every school in the country wants him. The kid can’t see that time will grab him and catapult him into his future, and when it does—when the kid wakes up at twenty-five employed as a hamburger slinger, it’s not too late, but his ditch is deep.
Tiller football players are fortunate. Not only do they have Miller and assistant coaches who truly care about their futures, they have access to Sam Baker, Chris Chester, and DeShaun Foster, all of whom frequently visit Miller and happily take a straying kid aside to tell him first hand what his future could be if he matured a little and hit the books harder. In this case having a natural gift works to the kid’s detriment. He hasn’t had to tough it out as much as the next guy to get where he is, so he figures the rest’ll fall into place. But it won’t if he doesn’t work hard on every aspect of his life. And the adults who surround him, who attempt to show him the way, burn in frustration watching the kid teeter on the fringes of an abyss—on the edge of losing the opportunity to improve his life. “I can’t reach them all,” Miller says, his eyes tired, “and I have to accept that.” Miller’s genuine concern for the future of his “kids” never waivers.
He knows what it will mean for some of them if they don’t earn scholarships, and he will fight for them even when they don’t fight for themselves and until the time comes when they have to walk through those Tustin High gates for the last time.