Raiders of­fen­sive line­man Kolton Miller says his brother has been an inspiration in his career

The Mercury News Weekend - - SPORTS - ByMatt Sch­nei­d­man mschnei­d­man@ ba­yare­anews­

Kolton Miller saun­ters through the front door, all 6-foot-8, 309 pounds of him, fresh off a gru­el­ing work­out with his trainer, past the signed Joe Mon­tana and Jerry Rice jer­seys framed on the wall to his right. That’s cor­rect. The fa­ther of the Raiders’ first-round pick hangs a pair of 49ers jer­seys over a bil­liards ta­ble cov­ered in — you guessed it — red felt.

Miller holds no beef with dad even if his team is Oak­land’s Bay Area foe. The soft­spo­ken 22-year- old doesn’t hold beef with much of any­one, for that mat­ter — not the crit­ics say­ing the Raiders reached for him at No. 15, not be­ing the sec­ond of­fen­sive tackle taken, not even the fake Kolton Miller mak­ing head­lines for of­fen­sive tweets many Twit­ter heads at­trib­uted to him.

Those who know Miller best know the likely starter on Oak­land’s of­fen­sive line pos­sesses a switch that trans­forms a care­free teddy bear into a pan­cak­ing be­he­moth. He low­ers him­self onto a brown leather couch, props his tree-trunk legs on an ex­tend­able leg rest and ex­plains what mo­ti­vates him, what re­ally flips that switch. Be­cause it’s hard to en­vi­sion this gen­tle gi­ant mus­ter­ing the tenac­ity to man­han­dle any hu­man de­spite his stature, let alone the Von Millers and Joey Bosas of the AFC West and be­yond.

Of course he isn’t the only of­fen­sive line­man with split per­son­al­i­ties on the grid­iron and off, and he be­gins his an­swer as most oth­ers like him might. “I like com­pet­ing. I like go­ing against big com­pe­ti­tion, but yeah…”

He trails off, then pauses briefly.

“Chad, my lit­tle brother, was sort of my mo­ti­vat­ing fac­tor up un­til this point.”

Chad is 16 and Kolton’s only blood sib­ling. He was born with Moe­bius syn­drome, a rare neu­ro­log­i­cal con­di­tion that mainly re­stricts fa­cial ex­pres­sions and eye move­ment. He qual­i­fies as le­gally blind, ex­pe­ri­ences short-term mem­ory, fa­tigues eas­ily and strug­gles at times with bal­ance, among other symp­toms. Chad wanted to be like his older brother, a football star in their home­town out­side Sacra­mento, but phys­i­cally could not.

In­stead, he be­came in­volved with football in other ways: as a cheer­leader, sta­tis­ti­cal know-it-all, coach’s helper. His mom’s motto: “It’s not that you can­not do any­thing. It might be that you can do it in a dif­fer­ent way.” Still, that wasn’t enough. Chad wanted to play, but he got a prom­ise from big brother as a con­so­la­tion.

Kolton vowed to pur­sue an NFL play­ing career for Chad since he was the only brother who could. He wanted to use his earn­ings, if he made the league, to make life eas­ier for his younger brother, maybe some­thing as sim­ple as pay­ing for rent down the line. His NFL home could very well be far­ther away than Chad pre­ferred and his fi­nances lim­ited de­pend­ing on when he was taken, but it was a prom­ise and a plan none­the­less. ‘Some­times it’s not fair’ Kolton was ready to march into the mid­dle school cafe­te­ria to con­front Chad’s bul­lies. The tow­er­ing high school line­man typ­i­cally stayed quiet, but this was lit­tle brother. Break­ing char­ac­ter was only right.

Karrie Miller re­calls the in­ci­dent, and her younger son’s non­cha­lant re­sponse. “No, no, no, no,” Chad said, de­clin­ing Kolton’s help. “It’s gonna be OK.” He grad­u­ally learned to deal with his disability and its dis­ad­van­tages, un­der­stand­ing he was dif­fer­ent but not let­ting it de­fine him.

Kolton has drawn inspiration him­self from the strides Chad has made since an early child­hood lim­ited by Moe­bius syn­drome: no sit­ting up­right un­til 2, no walk­ing un­til 4, no run­ning in straight lines, only blended foods un­til nearly age 6.

Kolton didn’t fully grasp the sever­ity of his brother’s dis­abil­i­ties un­til his early teens, his mom said, and did what­ever he could to make Chad feel any­thing was pos­si­ble. He of­ten brought Chad around the football team, where he served as side­line as­sis­tant, wa­ter boy and chief of high­fives. “I think Chad gets to live a lit­tle bit vi­car­i­ously through Kolton,” said Roseville football coach Larry Cunha, who got to wit­ness the mu­tual ben­e­fits of the brothers’ bond up close.

Chad was so in­volved in Kolton’s col­lege re­cruit­ment that he earned the nick­name “Bad Chad” from for­mer UCLA as­sis­tant An­gus McClure for his spunk. Bad Chad asked coaches where his brother stood on the depth chart and about UCLA’s strength of sched­ule. On a visit to cam­pus, he dressed in the full Bru­ins get-up for a photo op with then-head coach Jim Mora. The Bru­ins were court­ing Kolton, but Chad was part of the pack­age.

“I didn’t re­al­ize how big of a part he was of the re­cruit­ing process re­ally ‘ till the end,” McClure said. “I still call him Bad Chad. He’s a big per­son­al­ity. He speaks his mind.”

Chad hung around UCLA’s sum­mer prac­tices, at­tended walk­throughs be­fore game­day and stood out­side the sta­dium exit to greet play­ers fol­low­ing games. He doesn’t choose get­ting a hel­met signed by the en­tire team for his birth­day as his fa­vorite mem­ory from Kolton’s career, rather sneak­ing into UCLA’s locker room on Kolton’s Se­nior Night af­ter ly­ing that he needed some­where to stay be­cause he couldn’t find his par­ents. That’s how much he wanted to be like big brother.

Back home, Roseville coaches knew how badly Chad wanted to play. They added him to the ros­ter and gave hima uni­form de­spite never play­ing him in a game. Be­fore prac­tices, Chad hyped him­self up by re­play­ing Kolton’s best games in his head. “I see him as a football star, ba­si­cally,” Chad said. He was far­more vo­cal in the weight room and on the field than big brother had ever been, Kolton ad­mits, and took videos and pho­to­graphs for his team­mates on the side.

He’s since hung up the cleats be­cause of his disability — Karrie said he passed out a few times due to fa­tigue, among other chal­lenges — but still helps out the staff. “They’ve got him in dif­fer­ent roles which he doesn’t wanna do,” she said. “Chad wants to be out there in a uni­form. In his mind, he thinks that he’s play­ing football be­cause he has a very imag­i­na­tive mind. That in­spires them and it in­spires Chad.”

Chad knows he can’t be like his brother, but that doesn’t mean he’ll stop try­ing. Fol­low­ing his ev­ery move may not lead to a career in the NFL, but watch­ing Kolton live out both their dreams will cer­tainly suf­fice.

“Some­times as a dad, all the stuff that Kolton did, you’d like to be able to have Chad do it, too,” Dan Miller said. “But some­times it’s not fair. He’s been a trooper through it all and he’s a part of it.”

‘I just think about him and I’m in­stantly happy’

Karrie had re­turned from grab­bing the boys food when she over­heard their con­ver­sa­tion from the ho­tel room. The fam­ily was in town to­ward the end of Kolton’s red­shirt fresh­man year for a UCLA game. Kolton and Chad didn’t know Mom could hear them.

That’s when Kolton got Chad’s ap­proval to chase the NFL, as­sur­ing he’d ded­i­cate his jour­ney to lit­tle brother. Karrie, hear­ing a “That’s re­ally cool, bro!” from her youngest, peaked into the room as tears welled from her eyes.

“You would think they are much, much closer in age,” she said, “al­most like they have a part of each other.”

Chad may see Kolton as an icon, but Kolton views Chad the same de­spite their six-plus years apart. Big brother wrote down in­di­vid­ual goals on a sheet of paper his sec­ond sea­son with the Bru­ins, and they in­cluded be­com­ing a starter and an All-Amer­i­can, though his ul­ti­mate goal re­mained the NFL. Once that be­came a pos­si­bil­ity and not strictly fan­tasy, Kolton looked to the kid who’d al­ways looked to him for mo­ti­va­tion.

“I can be re­ally good at football and go into the NFL and re­ally pro­vide for him,” Kolton thought. “( If I’m) think­ing like, ‘All right, this is a crappy day,’ I just think about him and I’m in­stantly happy. Or it’ll bemy last set, I just have to think about him and that kind of gives me that ex­tra juice to beat the rep.”

As Chad played vi­car­i­ously through Kolton, big brother made it his re­spon­si­bil­ity to suc­ceed so Chad felt like he was thriv­ing, too. All those prac­tices, games and re­cruit­ing vis­its Chad joined in on were only made pos­si­ble be­cause big brother viewed lit­tle brother as an in­te­gral part of the process.

That’s why when Miller re­ceived his generic “No. 1” black jersey af­ter the Raiders took him in the first round, he didn’t hold onto it for long. Chad’s jersey col­lec­tion con­sisted of for­mer UCLA and cur­rent Jaguars line­backer Myles Jack, Odell Beck­ham Jr., Colin Kaeper­nick and Pey­ton Man­ning, among sev­eral oth­ers. Hav­ing big brother’s jersey in his pos­ses­sion might top them all.

“It’s been pretty awe­some, an inspiration kind of, just to fol­low his foot­steps,” Chad said. “… Ba­si­cally the whole ex­pe­ri­ence, hear­ing ‘Raaaaaaai­i­i­i­iders’ the whole time is gonna be…”

His sen­tence fades off, which is fit­ting, be­cause there re­ally isn’t one sin­gle word that can de­scribe how much Chad watch­ing Kolton in the NFL will mean to them both.

‘Be­ing in the me­dia box would be pretty cool’

When Chad first strolled into the liv­ing room, he looked fresh off a nap. He slumped into the couch next to his dad, his brown hair parted in the mid­dle and bob­bing at ei­ther side. Ask him about Kolton’s ex­ploits, though, and he’s wide awake.

Chad’s short-term mem­ory af­fects hob­bies such as cook­ing, his mom said, in which it’s safer to mi­crowave than po­ten­tially for­get a burn­ing stove. Ba­sic read­ing, too, has trou­ble stick­ing. Post-it notes are used on the bath­room mir­ror to re­mind him of daily tasks. His brother’s NFL Com­bine num­bers are a dif­fer­ent story.

Broad jump? “10’ 1.” (A com­bine record for of­fen­sive line­men.) 40? “4.95.” Bench? “24.” All cor­rect. When it comes to football, “He’ll re­mem­ber e-ve-r-y-thing,” Karrie said.

Now Chad is fully en­gaged, re­liv­ing and dis­sect­ing his thought process at the Miller fam­ily green­room ta­ble when Notre Dame of­fen­sive tackle Mike McGlinchey went ninth over­all to the 49ers.

“I’m like ‘ Welp, there’s only one place where we can go now and that’s Oak­land.’ I prob­a­bly knew it in my head,” he said. “Oak­land’s gonna pick him. Oak­land’s gonna pick him. He was ei­ther gonna go there or Ari­zona if the trade didn’t hap­pen.”

Chad spoke it into ex­is­tence, and now he’ll be at ev­ery home game, join­ing those chants he’s al­ready hear­ing in is head. He was a big part of Kolton’s Roseville High and UCLA teams, but be­ing more than just a fam­ily mem­ber in the stands might be a dif­fer­ent ball­game in the NFL.

“Wouldn’t that be dope to like…” Kolton starts, of­fer­ing a suggestion for Chad to get in­volved.

“Be a wa­ter boy over there on the side­line,” Dan chimes in.

“No, hell no,” Kolton fin­ishes. “Lead the team out … Maybe in my 10th year, that’d be like the one thing I could ask.”

“That would be cool,” Chad says calmly, al­most as if lead­ing the Raiders through flames un­der the arch is too low key. “Be­ing in the me­dia box would be pretty cool, though.”

Chad has thought of en­ter­ing me­dia as a writer or cam­era­man. The Raiders even pledged to re­serve a press box seat for a game so he can see what it’s like. Chad thinks “that’d be dope” and sud­denly he’s dis­cov­ered his ideal spot to watch Kolton’s next jour­ney from, even if he’s not as close as the ones prior.

Kolton beams ear to ear with a “Hoooooooooo, man!” An ec­static Chad makes for an ec­static Kolton, too.

He’s seen his younger brother frustrated, ea­ger, yearn­ing for a goal he can’t quite reach. Now he sees him teem­ing with ex­cite­ment for one he can.

Re­mem­ber the motto Chad grew frustrated with? It’s not that you can­not do any­thing. It might be that you can do it in a dif­fer­ent way. Now he’s em­brac­ing it, seek­ing his own path — with Kolton right be­side him af­ter all.


Oak­land Raiders first-round pick Kolton Miller (77) re­ally en­joys go­ing up against “big com­pe­ti­tion” on the field.


Kolton Miller, left, vowed to pur­sue an NFL career to honor his brother Chad, right, who has Moe­bius syn­drome.

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