Junior Will Emmett was a two-way starter for the Palm Desert Aztecs. He had 14 sacks and 124 tackles for the season. Photographed in Palm Springs, Calif. on December 8, 2014.
Franklin Miller shot out of his position in the defensive secondary, through a blocker, around another and into the backfield.
With less than six minutes remaining in the Eastern Division CIF championship football game, Miller charged full speed toward Serrano’s Andrew Valencia on fourth-and-four with Palm Springs High School trailing by four.
About eight feet from Valencia — and three yards behind the line of scrimmage — Miller dove, tackling the ball carrier at his feet and forcing a critical turnover on downs. He shouted as he popped up on his feet, pounded his chest and let out his pent up emotion in one loud shriek.
“That was the best feeling,” Miller said.
Seven plays later, Miller scored the go-ahead touchdown to secure the school’s second CIF title.
But more influential than any of the 19 touchdowns he scored on the season were his contributions to arguably the best defense in the division (allowing 15.7 points per game). For that reason, Miller is The Desert Sun’s Defensive Most Valuable Player for 2014.
“He was all over the field,” Palm Springs head coach Dan Murphy said. “You watch the film, and he’s making plays everywhere.”
Though Miller clearly made the biggest defensive play of the Indians’ season, it isn’t as though that was the only play he made.
Miller also made the tackle on the final play of the title game to secure the victory. He led the division with six interceptions, and returned one 43 yards for a touchdown, and another 49 yards for a score.
He also returned two punts for touchdowns, forced three fumbles and recovered two, and finished fourth on the team in tackles from the cornerback position.
To top it off, he finished second in voting for the Desert Valley League’s Defensive Player of the Year — and then dominated in the playoffs.
“He’s just tenacious,” defensive coordinator Tyrus Brown said. “He’s tenacious and goes after it on every play.
“He’s the kid who makes it all happen. He’s the catalyst for our defense.”
Added Miller, “I just work hard, and it pays off. But you have to put the work in and we did that this year.”
With the star-studded roster at Palm Springs, Miller usually isn’t the first player outsiders think of. After all, there are players with Division I scholarship offers. There’s arguably one of the top quarterbacks in Southern California. There’s another Division I prospect, a 1,000-yard receiver, and a host of others who were key to the Indians’ success this year.
As a result, Miller doesn’t stand out until the whistle is blown.
“It’s easy to overlook him because he’s 5-foot-nothing, 100-and-nothing,” Brown said of Miller, who is officially listed at 5-foot-7 and 150 pounds.
When opposing teams opened up the pass, they avoided Tayler Hawkins, who has Division I offers. That incited something in Miller, who took it as a personal challenge, and a perceived slight.
Over the course of the season, he made teams pay for that. He also played with a chip on his shoulder, and as a result was the best defensive player in the valley.
Some say he was even more than that.
“I don’t see why he wasn’t the best player in our league this year,” Brown said, noting that Miller didn’t win any of the DVL awards. “You could make a case for it on offense, defense and special teams.”