The Wolverine

February 2019

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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68 THE WOLVERINE FEBRUARY 2019 BY JOHN BORTON W ayne Miller built a life around instructing oth- ers. His own education and Hall of Fame wrestling career began in earnest at the Uni- versity of Michigan. An All-American as a senior in 1964, Miller remains forever grateful, and humbled, by the opportunity that came his way nearly six decades ago. The three-sport standout from Thornton Township High School in Harvey, Ill., took the road less traveled in his circle. His high school c o a c h k n e w a n d re c o m - mended Michigan's legendary wrestling coach Cliff Keen. Miller and Keen's son, Jim, became fast friends in the recruiting process. A visit to Michigan's campus sealed the deal, laying the foundation for all that followed. "I just fell in love with Michigan, back in the day when Jim Pace was playing football," Miller recalled. "I didn't know much about the wrestling program back then. But the winged helmet and Jimmy Pace … I fell in love with Ann Arbor once I got there." Miller soon became caught up in the great flow of newcomers, even though freshmen were ineligible to participate in varsity sports back then. He made many friends in addition to the younger Keen, including football players. His gridiron buddies included Tom Keating, Joe O'Donnell and John Yanz, whose eating habits, like Miller's, reflected the demands of their sport. "They would take me to breakfast and order 12-egg omelets, while I could only order a poached egg and a cup of tea," Miller shared. He harbored football dreams of his own that first fall, ones quickly reversed. "I wanted to give it a try, with the freshman team playing back then," Miller recalled. "I asked the coach if there was a possibility if I could just try out. Coach Keen got wind of that and said I was going to get hurt." Miller wrestled at 157 and quickly found next-level academics weight- ier than expected. "He said, 'You need to figure out what you're doing academically,'" Miller recalled. "Within a month of time, my grades were wavering." Miller settled on wrestling, aca- d e m i c s a n d w o r k , e v e r y t h i n g smoothing out in the process. Cliff Keen invented wrestling headgear, and his son and Miller worked as- sembling it and packaging it in the coach's basement. "That was one of my first jobs there," he recalled. "Besides that, I was bussing dishes at West Quad. Things were falling into place, and I felt really comfortable." Miller received a boost prior to starting his sophomore year from an- other football player, Dennis Fitzger- ald, who served as an assistant wres- tling coach. The two worked our rigorously over the summer at Ann Arbor's Pioneer High. Miller held his own once the sea- son began, beating a Michigan State wrestler in his first Big Ten battle. Miller lettered that year, despite bat- tling weight control issues as- sociated with moving up and down in weight classifications. He improved as a junior, fin- ishing third in the Midlands Open Tournament, but saw his season end with an AC joint separation in his shoulder. He knew he was in good hands, even then. A trip to the training room with a sprained wrist and thumb early in his career proved it. "I'm in awe of all the ath- letes walking around in there," Miller recalled. "I'm sitting there for maybe 20 minutes, and the trainer, Jim Hunt, walked in and introduced him- self to me. I said, 'Who is that very large person that you're giving some therapy to?' "He says, 'Well, that's Ron Kramer.' I said, 'Oh, my gosh.' Ron Kramer, at that time, was with the Packers. My thought process was, Mr. Hunt just left Ron Kramer to come over and take care of my hand. Going from Kramer to a nobody … I was just so impressed with him. "He treated all athletes like that. He was just a wonderful human be- ing. I was very appreciative of know- ing Mr. Hunt." Miller's senior season stands as a sterling example of finishing strong. He became a team captain, winning his bout against an Olympian in the New York Athletic Club dual meet. "I didn't feel like I became a really knowledgeable, successful wrestler until the end of my senior year," he said. "Things kind of fell into place." Major challenges remained, one involving Keen's decision to move Miller from 157 to 177 for the Big Ten meet. The multiple levers the coach pulled helped the Wolverines win the Big Ten title, but didn't work out for their new 177-pounder. "I won one match, and I lost to the champ," Miller recalled. "I lost in the wrestle back, and it wasn't a very good thing for me or the team." The captain never questioned   WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Hall Of Fame Wrestling Figure Wayne Miller Got His Start At Michigan Miller, who earned All-America honors as a senior, was a part of four Big Ten title teams and three that finished in the top 10 nationally during his time in Ann Arbor. PHOTO COURTESY MICHIGAN ATHLETIC MEDIA RELATIONS

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