RL Miller’s Senior Night was a perfect encapsulation of not only his senior year, but of his entire career and legacy at Sacred Heart Cathedral.
With his extended family and entire school cheering him on, he scored three touchdowns, including two on defense to lead the Fightin’ Irish to a 30-17 win over Bellarmine, punctuated by a play where he snatched an option pitch out of midair and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown, complete with a celebratory slide once he crossed the goal line.
For his contributions this season and for the overall legacy that he will leave behind at Sacred Heart Cathedral, Miller is The Standard’s first annual San Francisco High School Football Player of the Year.
The swiped option pitch was the fourth of Miller’s five defensive touchdowns on the season, a representation of his dynamic playmaking ability that not only helped turn the Fightin’ Irish into a perennial contender but also ignited support from a community that had often been lukewarm at best when it came to sports.
“It’s so great to see athletes supporting athletes at Sacred Heart Cathedral,” said Kevin Buckley, a 2013 SHC graduate who serves on the school’s Board of Regents and acts as the public address announcer at most Fightin’ Irish sporting events.
Before 2021, Sacred Heart Cathedral sporting events typically drew moribund crowds, save for Bruce-Mahoney Games against St. Ignatius. Between a state football run, a student body eager to get out of the house and socialize in the aftermath of the pandemic, and an energetic student body, SHC sporting events of all sorts are now played in front of the passionate crowds that the West Catholic Athletic League (WCAL) is known for.
“The whole student body is getting involved,” Buckley said. “There’s a lot of energy behind the athletic department. A lot of students who previously wouldn’t attend these games really made it a point to this year because they were so exciting to watch.”
That Senior Night victory against Bellarmine was a great example of the newfound passion and support in the SHC community. Games against an opponent from San Jose barely stirred the needle before 2021, but with players like Miller who could not only rip off highlight-reel plays at a moment’s notice but also invigorate passion in alumni across generations, the home side at Kezar Stadium roared every week.
It’s a symbiotic relationship that’s been displayed throughout the entire school. At the Bruce-Mahoney volleyball game, Miller was leading chants at the front of the SHC student section alongside teammates Ryan Bower, Jerry Mixon Jr., Jay Murphy and Jordan Solofa-Fatu.
“I was so proud of them because that class could have run out and left during the Covid season,” head coach Antoine Evans said of the senior class. “A lot of kids were close to leaving, but that class stuck around. They always represent the community well.”
Truthfully, any of the seniors on the Irish roster could have been chosen as worthy representatives of the group. Isaiah Keishk and Kendric Sanders both excelled on the field and in the classroom despite speech impediments, and Mixon is a 3-star national recruit committed to Oregon.
What set Miller apart from the group to earn him the Player of the Year honors? Those five defensive touchdowns. He returned a tipped pass for a pick-six against Burlingame, took another interception to the house against Mitty and returned an interception for a score in the second quarter against Bellarmine. The option pitch that he returned to the house in the third quarter against the Bells was technically a scoop-and-score.
His 43-yard pick-six in the closing minutes of SHC’s Stanfel Cup victory over Riordan, a win that secured a sweep of both city WCAL rivals, was his final defensive score of the year.
Never one to downplay his own abilities, Miller was quick to mention that he had a sixth defensive touchdown negated by a holding penalty against Valley Christian when asked about his season.
Miller committed to Fresno State on Dec. 20, choosing the Bulldogs over Arizona, Arizona State and Western Kentucky. He had committed to ASU in June, but announced his decommitment on Dec. 8 after linebackers coach Chris Claiborne was not retained on the Sun Devils’ new coaching staff.
Ethan Kassel can be reached at [email protected]