Bayard's Miller excited for senior season

CHADRON – A pair of small town players who have worked their way up through the ranks to become stalwarts at linebacker for the Chadron State Eagles are anxious for their senior seasons to get underway.

They are Shea Koch of Custer, S.D., who plays in the middle, and Bryant Miller of Bayard, who is the Will linebacker in the Eagles' 3-3 alignment.

Both note they had to "pay their dues" by spending two years on the Eagles' service team before they made the travel roster, but this will be their third seasons as defensive and special teams mainstays.

Both have already completed the primary reason they came to college. They earned their bachelor's degrees in May and are taking graduate courses this fall while using their final season of football eligibility. Koch earned his degree in business administration with emphasis in finance and graduated with a 3.5 grade point average. Miller got his degree in construction management and has a 3.2 GPA.

Defensive coordinator Jeff Larson says he's delighted to have Koch and Miller on the team. He said neither is quite as fast as Kevin Lindholm, the Eagles' All-American linebacker last fall, but he said they are physical and smart.

"They are students of the game who understand our schemes and concepts so well," Larson said. "They help the linemen get lined up right and make sure the whole defense on the same page. They've became outstanding leaders and they play bigger than they are. "

Koch is listed at 6-foot-1, 220 pounds and Miller is 6-0, 210.

Koch has been playing linebacker for a long time. He became a starter for the Custer Wildcats midway through his freshman year. He also played fullback or H back on offense and earned Class A all-state honors as a senior and was selected for the South Dakota All-Star Game.

He also started for the basketball team, but notes he was "known more as a rebounder and grinder than I was for my offense."

After making the Chadron State travel squad as a sophomore, he began sharing playing time at strong side linebacker and started the final four games after starter Brett Christensen was injured.

Last season, Koch moved into the middle, where standout James Belville had played the previous two years.

Although Lindholm got much acclaim while leading the Eagles in tackles last fall, Koch also had a banner season. He finished with 97 tackles, including 5.5 for a loss and four quarterback sacks. He had five games with at least nine tackles, including a career-high 16 against Adams State and a team-best 14 in the playoff game against West Texas A&M.

Besides playing middle linebacker, Koch also has another huge job with the Eagles. He's the snapper to both the punter and for the placekicker. It's something he began doing when he was in middle school and continued to do most of the time during high school. He resumed the duties last fall after the Eagles who previously had previously snapped the ball graduated.

"I can't say it's something I really enjoy, because there's a lot of pressure with it," Koch said. "But somebody has to do it and I guess it might as well be me if I can handle it. I've done it before."

Miller also has extra duty with the Eagles. Besides starting at outside linebacker, he's ticketed to be on the kickoff, kickoff return, punt and punt return teams.

Even though he was a four-year starter at both quarterback and linebacker at Bayard High, he admits there were times during his first two years at CSC that he wondered if he would ever play. His confidence got a boost at the end of the second year when he was selected as one of the two outstanding defensive players on the CSC service team.

"Staying with it is the best decision I've ever made," Miller said. "There's so much to learn. We have a fast flowing defense with quite a bit of blitzing and lots of different reads. I remember as a freshman my head would be spinning. I was trying to learn the defense and I also had to do my school work. There seemed to be a lot on my plate."

In 2011, when they were redshirt sophomores, both Miller and Koch received what might be called "the stamp of approval." They "got to get on the bus" for the away games and knew they were officially a part of the team. Miller played in seven games and recorded 13 tackles.

Last fall, he earned more playing time as the season moved along, started twice and finished with 48 tackles, including 4.5 behind the line of scrimmage. He had seven tackles against CSU-Pueblo in what proved to be the RMAC title game, and made at least six stops in four more games. In addition, he picked off a pass and broke up two more.

This year Miller, who also started all four years for the Bayard basketball team, notes that he's "more comfortable" with the whole system.

"I won't hold anything back and we'll see where the season takes us. We should be solid on both sides of the ball."

Larson said he challenged both of his senior linebackers to be strong leaders, "to take charge of the defense," last spring and again in the fall.

"The neat thing is they are setting the tempo and showing our young linebackers what it takes to be a starter and how hard a senior linebacker should play," he said. "That will help us down the road."

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