By the time Evan Miller graduated from Zephyrhills Christian Academy (ZCA), he was already among Florida’s fastest sprinters, laying claim to three state titles.
During his senior year he won the Class 1A crown 100-meter dash (10.75) at the 2018 FHSAA State Track & Field Championships. He also was a member of the school’s medalist 4×100 relay team that won back-to-back state crowns in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
The Zephyrhills native has made plenty of strides since, now morphing into one of the nation’s top college sprinters as a rising junior at NCAAA Division I University of South Carolina track and field program.
His present bests thus far are 10.39-second 100-meter dash, 20.93 200-meter dash, and 6.73 60-meter dash.
To put that in context, Miller’s 200-meter personal record was the 26th fastest-time recorded in the 2019-2020 NCAA Division I men’s indoor track ranks. Moreover, it’s the sixth-fastest time in South Carolina program history.
After finishing 19th in the 200 meters at the 2020 SEC (Southeastern Conference) Indoor Championships in late February, the sprinter was poised for a promising outdoor track season.
Then COVID-19 happened, cutting short the remainder of his sophomore campaign.
“It was really disappointing, because the 200 (meter), I was actually decreasing my time like every meet,” Miller said. “I was ready to run outdoor and try to make it to nationals in one of my events…so there were just a lot of plans for the outdoor season that we didn’t get to do, unfortunately, so it was tough.”
Since the spring college athletics season was canceled — and classes headed virtual — Miller has been keeping in shape in his hometown, linking up with his private track coach Bernard “BB” Roberts, who runs the Wesley Chapel-based Speed Starz Track/Running Club.
The two have been training together since March, regularly practicing two-a-days in the mornings and evenings.
With parks closed throughout much of the pandemic, Miller was relegated to working out on grass fields until Roberts was able to get permission to use Wiregrass Ranch High School’s track and field complex a few weeks ago.
However and wherever Miller trains, Roberts sees this time as a prime opportunity to improve, estimating most college track athletes are simply taking this summer off.
Roberts explained, “I basically talk him into it, ‘Hey, keep going. We have our goals in place. Don’t let this pandemic that we’re going through right now mess you up. Use this time to your advantage. Use the time to get better. Let’s get ahead of the game, keep training.’”
Fine-tuning his form
Together, they’ve been working on such details as block starts, posture, arm swing action, and relaxation techniques.
“A lot of stuff goes into speed, working faster,” said Roberts, a former college sprinter who claimed multiple track records from his time at Wesley Chapel High School in the early 2000s. “The average person thinks you just take off from ‘Point A’ to the finish line, and it doesn’t work like that at all. There’s a lot of strategy and lots of technique that’s never-ending.”
Besides his burgeoning college career, Miller is thinking bigger picture.
He hopes to run professionally someday, traveling the world competing against other elite athletes.
The local track star looks to be on the right path. He recently was extended an invitation to register as a potential participant for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, which has tentatively been moved to 2021.
To qualify for the U.S. Olympics Team Trials, rescheduled to June 2021, Miller has to reach certain benchmarks in whichever events he chooses to run. For instance, he may need to run 10 seconds flat in the 100-meter dash or a 20.3 200-meter dash.
With additional time on his side, being on the U.S. Olympics Team’s radar has given him extra motivation to live out his dream.
“I definitely want to compete in the Olympics,” Miller said. “(The invitation) gave me a lot of hope, gave me a lot of confidence, seeing that all my work’s paying off. I was really excited to get that email. It just made me want to work harder and practice my craft more, and get better until then.”
His private coach has no doubt Miller has the talent to achieve those goals.
“He definitely has the potential to be an Olympian,” Roberts said, confidently.
Aside from having an ideal body frame, stride length and athleticism, Miller’s greatest quality might be his willingness and dedication to learn, Roberts said.
“He definitely has the work ethic,” the coach said. “He has an open mind to receive or take criticism. I’m hard on him for a reason, and he’s willing to take that and use it as motivation, which is what I like about him.”
Miller got a taste of what it takes to become a world-class sprinter during the July Fourth weekend.
Competing at the V12 Athletics Summer Games in Alachua, Miller raced alongside world champion and Olympic bronze medalist Steven Gardiner (Bahamas), Asa Guevara (Trinidad and Tobago) and Quantaveon Poole (United States) in the 300-meter dash. Miller placed fourth among the group, clocking 35.44 seconds. Gardiner won the race in 31.83 — setting a new Bahamian national record in the process.
It marked Miller’s first time lacing up spikes and competing in an official race since the SEC Indoor Championships. It also served as a barometer of where he stands in comparison to some top-ranked pros.
“It was pretty cool, to have an opportunity to race them and compete with them,” said Miller. “It felt really good to be able to run again, and be able to compete again against other runners.”
Meanwhile, Miller is looking forward to heading back up to Columbia, South Carolina, by summer’s end, where he can rejoin his Gamecock teammates and have access to the athletic program’s nutritionist, rehabilitation and training resources. He’s also poised to add to his family’s legacy at South Carolina. His father, Selvesta, played football at South Carolina from 1994 to 1997 and later spent two seasons with the Miami Dolphins.
“It’s been a good experience for me,” Miller said of his college career thus far. “It’s just like crazy to think that I turned out at South Carolina from ZCA. It was just one of those dream schools to go to because my dad played there and everything, so it’s just great to see that I’m doing things like this.”
Published July 22, 2020