Area Player of the Year: Miller rushes for nearly 1,000 yards in shortened season

One of Aitkin's best football teams in program history also had one of its best football players in senior running back and defensive back Owen Miller.

Aitkin's Owen Miller runs with the ball against Pine City Wednesday, Nov. 11, in Aitkin. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

When Owen Miller and his Aitkin Gobbler teammates walked off the field after their final game, they felt a little empty.

Sure, they crushed Virginia 56-6 behind Miller’s 240 rushing yards and four touchdowns, but it was in the Section 7-3A semifinals, not the finals denying the Gobblers of a section title they desperately coveted.

“For me and a lot of the other guys, we just wanted to play one more game,” Miller said. “A section championship would’ve been awesome to see on our plate there. All of us seniors wanted to play one more game. We love the game so much and love each other so much that it was just really good to play one more time to play with the guys.”

RELATED: Area Football: Gobblers make statement in blowout victory The Aitkin Gobblers rushed for 512 yards and put up 56 points against the No. 4 seeded Virginia Blue Devils to finish season 6-1 and winners of their last four games.
Regardless of the disappointment, Miller poured in a stellar senior season leading the area in rushing yards with 915 and averaging 8.4 yards a carry. He found the end zone 12 times, one behind Pierz’s Michael Leidenfrost for the area lead. Miller did all that in only a seven-game season earning him Dispatch Player of the Year for 2020.

“We didn’t really know what was going to happen, but we just came into it basically like a normal season,” Miller said. “We had our summer football camps, our starting practice, and then when they said it’s done, we knew we were somewhat prepared. We just treated it like a normal season which really helped us out in the long run.”


Miller’s combination of speed and strength had defenses struggling to bring him down all season.

“I’m a tough runner and all that comes from the confidence I have in my teammates,” Miller said. “The other running backs we have could’ve gotten just as many carries as I did, but they blocked really well ahead of me.”

RELATED: Area Football: Gobblers take care of business to earn No. 1 seed for playoffs The Aitkin Gobblers' rushing attack opened up the passing game leading to a 48-26 blowout of the Pine City Dragons.
Aitkin’s head coach Alan Hills said it’s Miller’s vision that really sets him apart.

“He’s an extremely hard worker in the offseason,” Hills said. “Whether it be camps or in the weight room. He’s a lead-by-example type of guy. He’s always there to make himself and his teammates better. He has that special knack of knowing where the lanes are and how to make a guy miss.

“He’s got that vision that you just can’t teach. He's got a way at finding that hole that doesn’t look like it’s there and then all of the sudden he squirts out and it’s a foot race.”

Miller came off a junior season where he rushed the ball 65 times for 634 yards and seven touchdowns. He said a big offseason was the reason for his improvement.

“Our offseason program at Aitkin is pretty awesome,” he said. “Any of the student-athletes that want to work can and a lot of the football guys are in there. You can tell we have the work ethic to get better.”


Aitkin's Owen Miller runs with the ball against Pine City Wednesday, Nov. 11, in Aitkin. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Miller started on varsity since he was a freshman and grew into a go-to guy and a leader for Aitkin.

“He shows up and is ready to work,” Hills said. “He’s an extremely high-character kid and will do what is asked of him. He played wide receiver for two years until we switched him to running back to get him more touches.

“He loves football. He just loves to play the game and it’s the things he does in the offseason, but more than anything he has that natural ability to make things happen when the ball is in his hands.”

RELATED: Area Football: Aitkin gobbles up yardage to beat Rangers
Miller showed some eye-popping numbers on offense in the seven games, but also tallied 21 tackles, two interceptions and two forced fumbles on defense. On special teams, he returned on kickoff back for a touchdown.

“I obviously had a pretty big offensive year which was my main focus,” Miller said. “My defense gets lost in that and defense is awesome. We call ourselves the wolfpack because we are always hunting and working as a team.”

With all the uncertainty surrounding the season, Miller said a big emphasis for him and the team was to not worry about what they can’t do at the end of the year, but what they can do.

“That’s what we pounded into the heads of the guys that we were around,” Miller said.


One memory that stands out to Miller was beating Moose Lake.

“Aitkin doesn’t really beat Moose Lake,” he said. “To beat them in our senior year was fun. To be successful was really fun.”

Miller plans to play college football, but he doesn’t know where yet. Hills said he won’t have that much trouble playing at the next level.

“He’s a coach's dream,” Hills said. “He’s going to do whatever it takes to make what we need to happen on the field and make it work. He played corner for us. We can split him out once in a while. He is as versatile of a player as we have ever had here. We can line him up almost anywhere and do almost anything and it makes my job easier.

“From most of the recruiting visits he’s been on they’ve been looking at him as a hybrid type of player. A little bit of wing-back, h-back player, a guy who can do a little bit of everything for you on the offensive side of the ball.”

Above all, Miller gives a ton of credit to his offensive line.

“I run to the right side most of the time and Hunter Hills and Jeremiah Smythe were leading the way on that right side,” Miller said. “Without those two I wouldn’t have had any of my yards.”


CONRAD ENGSTROM may be reached at 218-855-5861 or Follow on Twitter at

All-Area Football Players of Year

2020: Owen Miller, Aitkin

2019: Matthias Algarin, Pierz

2018: Reese Kapsner, Pierz

2017: Charlie Geraets, BRD

2016: Noah Gindorff, C-I


2015: Noah Boser, Pierz

2014: Robbie Skiba, Pierz

2013: Conor Gessel BRD, Cole Smith BRD

2012: Josh Lanners, Pierz

2011: Jake Kassulker, BRD

2010: Jordan Hayes BRD; Zach Horejsi, Little Falls

2009: Kyle Crocker, BRD

2008: Colby Ring, BRD; Matt Moenkedick, Verndale


2007: Nate Schaefbauer BRD; Mike Valesano BRD

2006: Scott Herold, Pierz

2005: Scott Saehr, Pierz

2004: Christian Even, Pierz

Owen Miller

Owen Miller.jpg
Owen Miller.

Year: Senior

School: Aitkin High School

Season Stats: Finished with 915 yards on 105 carries for an 8.71 average and 12 touchdowns. He finished with 21 tackles, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. He also returned one kickoff for a touchdown.

Next Year: Undecided.

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