Ridge View junior lineman Ezra Miller discusses his early 2019 commitment to the Hawkeyes, why he ended recruiting early.
HOLSTEIN, Ia. — Ridge View High School’s summer workout circuit is too small and tight-knit for anyone to act big-time.
Even a 6-foot-6, nearly 300-pound football star has to smile through dripping sweat when teammates laugh and holler at his expense.
Each time Ezra Miller steps on one of the tiny orange safety cones set up for footwork drills in the sunny parking lot, a good-natured correction cries out from the line of players behind him.
“Ezra! You keep killing cones!”
Miller is a prodigy of an offensive line prospect, one of the top-rated recruits in the country, an early 2019 commit for the Iowa Hawkeyes, and he’d expect nothing else as morning conditioning comes to an end.
“I used to be very, very unathletic, because I didn’t fit well into my body,” Miller said. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown into it. But I’ve always loved playing sports.
“That’s the cool thing about being bigger and able to push kids around.”
In recruiting circles, the 16-year-old big man is becoming the center of attention. In his hometown of Holstein, Miller is happy to “stay under the radar.”
A natural leader, multi-sport athlete and honors student with a strong desire to stand by his in-state verbal commitment, the youngest son of Patrick and Mary Miller epitomizes what Iowa wants in its football prospects.
“Ezra is the type of kid, if he commits to something, he’s going to finish it,” said Jeff DeHaan, Ridge View’s former head football coach. “He’s going to have a target on his back for the next two years. Every kid at every school is going to know who he is.
“He needs to be lead by doing, and I think he will.”
The four-star tackle is entering a transition period at Ridge View — as a Hawkeye recruit and in his own development. Once he cooled down from the offseason workout and drank almost his entire gallon-sized water bottle, Miller assessed the tasks ahead in his junior year.
“The fact that I didn’t really care for the recruiting process made it so much easier,” he said. “I did my research. I knew where I wanted to go. It was just a matter of when I was going to commit.”
The college commit
Miller is rated by 247Sports as the No. 83 overall prospect and No. 9 offensive tackle in the country from the Class of 2019. He’s shown off his skills at Nike’s The Opening, Under Armour’s All-America Camp and Rivals’ Camp Series, drawing interest from programs like Stanford, Penn State and Florida State.
And yet he decided to end the recruiting process in April by publicly declaring for the Hawkeyes.
“I would much rather be here, working around the house, taking down trees all summer, than constantly going hours away for camps and reaching out to coaches constantly,” Miller said.
Should 247’s marks hold — Miller has at least 18 months until the first available signing period — the Ridge View lineman would be Iowa’s top-rated offensive line recruit of the last 10 classes and highest-ranked line prospect to come out of the state since Cedar Falls star Ross Pierschbacher in 2014.
Miller was the first 2019 pledge for the Hawkeyes, followed by fellow four-star lineman Tyler Endres of Norwalk. Both received early offers from Iowa and Iowa State, with other schools rushing to see what they might be missing out on.
“Maybe a few years ago, Iowa could have kept them quieter as recruits for a little bit longer,” said Josh Helmholdt, Midwest recruiting analyst at Rivals.
“With both of those guys, it’s a different era of recruiting. You can’t assume they’re going to be there for you six months down the road.”
As it turned out, Miller had little interest in waiting for calls to come in from across the country. Whether he projects to play guard or tackle, the team specializing in offensive line development — especially from his corner of the state — was close to home.
Iowa assistants Brian Ferentz and Reese Morgan offered the coaching experience he was looking for, and the university could provide the pre-med educational path he’s already interested in.
“They are incredibly down to earth and seem like normal people,” Miller said. “They’re not constantly exaggerating everything about the team or the school.
“They give you the truth. I absolutely love that.”
Teammates figured this time would come. Miller grew up as a Notre Dame fan, like his father, but began following the Hawkeyes and Cyclones once he gauged his own ability regionally on youth all-star football teams.
“Honestly, it was probably middle school when we all realized there was a real chance he could go D-I,” said Ridge View senior receiver Jake Mitchell.
“Ezra just kept getting bigger and it became a reality. He’s always been a little bit more elite. And he always did extra work.”
After eighth grade, Miller went to camps at Iowa State and Wisconsin. He added Iowa, Nebraska and Florida after his freshman season, and varsity coaches starting getting calls once their 275-pound sophomore was seen on film pushing defensive linemen 15 yards downfield in the spread offense.
“Ezra explodes off the ball and has good speed for a big guy. We can even see that on the basketball court,” said Ridge View’s new head football coach Dale Tokheim. “But the biggest thing is that he works so darn hard.”
The attention blossomed when Miller became the first 2019 recruit on Iowa’s board. Here was a highly touted in-state offensive lineman, with his mind already made up to help the Hawkeyes build a class for the future.
What more could fans want?
“It doesn’t surprise me that Iowa offered him and took him early on,” Helmholdt said. “He’s a higher-risk, higher-reward type of guy.
“He could end up being one of the top offensive tackles in the class, or maybe it never quite turns the corner for him, and the couple of things that are concerns now get augmented as he progresses.”
The prep prospect
Tokheim is hoping to give Ridge View some football history by turning back the clock on its offense.
The Raptors will start 2017 with the Wing-T, trying to capitalize on a sizable line blocking for promising running back Jake Kliegl.
“We want Ezra to be able to help lead that group,” Tokheim said. “We have so much size and they’re all pretty good athletes, so we’re just trying to figure out where the pieces go. It’s exciting to have guys that are big and strong be able to run this system for us.”
Miller is excited about the change, which is minor compared with the consolidation he’s seen since starting school. Ridge View was born in 2010 out of the brief on-field combination of Galva-Holstein and Schaller-Crestland — where Tokheim used to be head coach — known as Buffalo Ridge.
The Iowa offensive coordinator touches on personnel, including the move of Drew Cook to tight end.
The mergers have left the Raptors with a handful of playoff appearances, but no major impact on the state’s prep football scene. With Miller playing offensive tackle, defensive line, and perhaps moonlighting at tight end, they’re dreaming of the UNI-Dome.
“Ezra has always been super dedicated about anything he sets his mind to,” said Ridge View senior lineman Trent Moeller. “He’s a great teammate, just pushing and supporting everyone.”
Blocking downhill out of the Wing-T should offer Miller some updated highlights against Class A competition. Giving Iowa’s coaches an opportunity to see him in camp, on the basketball court and throwing for track and field may have offered a better evaluation than his freshman season game tape, and now road-grading as an experienced lineman could take his performance up a level.
“His freshman year, I think he kind of struggled a little bit, more with his technique,” DeHaan said. “He was so used to being able to use his body size, getting away with things based on his pure strength, but toward the end it was fun to see him grow. Last year, he grew tremendously.
“It’s going to be fun to watch him mature and see what he’s like as a senior.”
Miller has worked with Ridge View’s offensive line coach Justin Kinney in the offseasons, and asked Tokheim and other assistants for additional workouts. He travels to Woodbine weekly to meet with a personal trainer and is already applying certain lessons he picked up in Iowa City. It all bodes well for a soon-to-be 17-year-old who DeHaan says “knows what hard work is.”
“Ezra knew freshman year that he had to continue working on his footwork and explosiveness,” Tokheim said. “I knew we had something special when I saw him outside with a stopwatch, running other freshmen through the workouts that we had given him. He was already coaching them along on their own time.”
With a college commitment already made and plans in place to continue developing physically, Miller still has two more seasons of high school football to show off his dominance.
“He’s got to stay mindful of playing light on his feet,” Helmholdt said. “The strength will come and being able to stay heavier at the point of attack, that will happen. I’m not worried about that with him.
“He’s got a good football frame, and I definitely see why Big Ten schools were interested in him early on.”
The high school student
Miller’s focus beyond football is why observers believe he may been in an increasingly rare group of early college commits who don’t falter ahead of National Signing Day.
The son of OA-BCIG principal Patrick and state fire and arson investigator Mary boasts a 3.9 grade-point average and excels in math and science. Older brothers Elijah and Isaiah already went through the recruiting and student-athlete process as basketball players at Wayne State and Graceland, respectively.
“It all starts at home,” DeHaan said. “Ezra’s parents are very grounded, respectful people. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree.”
Tim Polasek says the Hawkeyes are looking for depth this spring.
Outside of school, sports and workouts, the tall, blond prospect spends time working on his family’s yard, a short drive down a gravel road away from downtown Holstein. Miller is trying to stay ahead of his work with the Hawkeyes, already reading the book “The Slight Edge,” required of all incoming freshman to head coach Kirk Ferentz’s squad.
His next self-assigned task is to help recruit more 2019 prospects to Iowa City.
“I take pride in carrying the flag for ‘Swarm 2019,’” Miller said. “Coaches asked me to occasionally reach out, but I took it on and they love what I’ve done so far and have been really encouraging.”
His personality is up to the task. Just as he smiled through a couple stumbles during morning drills, Miller can maturely navigate the tenuous relationships of recruiting. He’s gathered fellow commits on visits, messaged other offered prospects on social media, and even says the only chance of a decommit are with a wholesale coaching change.
Considering Kirk Ferentz’s staff is in its 19th season searching for prospects just like this, Miller hopes Hawkeye fans can take him at his word.
“I think the calls from other places will pick back up on Sept. 1, when they can start contacting me again,” Miller said. “But all I can do is give them honesty. I’m not going to burn any bridges, and it’s very nice that they’re recruiting me. But I know right where I want to go and right where I belong.”
Miller making his mark
Below are the highest-rated offensive line recruits for the Hawkeyes since 2010, per 247 Sports. Listed is their class, home state, overall national ranking, and where they rated as prep prospects in Iowa’s class (e.g., Tristan Wirfs was No. 2 in 2017 class behind defensive end A.J. Epenesa). The 2018 and 2019 prospects are still verbal commitments and not yet signed.
Year Name State Rank #
2019 Ezra Miller Iowa 83 1
2018 Cody Ince Wisconsin 798 3
2017 Tristan Wirfs Iowa 322 2
2016 Alaric Jackson Michigan 639 6
2015 James Daniels Ohio 331 1
2014 Lucas LeGrand Iowa 826 5
2013 Colin Goebel Illinois 493 2
2012 Ryan Ward Illinois 509 3
2011 Jordan Walsh Illinois 139 1
2010 Andrew Donnal Ohio 259 2