FOXWORTH, Miss. (AP) — Just watching Gabe Miller play football, you'd think it comes easy to him.
The senior middle linebacker has led West Marion in tackles for the past three years.
On the field, Miller is a quiet, confident leader who has a nose for the ball and a knack for being a ball-hawk. Someone that would make you think all of his standout ability is strictly God-given.
You'd be wrong.
"Gabe has worked very hard to get to where he's at," West Marion head coach Brad Duncan said. "He takes film home every night and does a lot of the little things that people don't recognize."
Duncan and the Trojans will need that type of leadership and work ethic come Friday when they travel to undefeated Hazlehurst for the Class 3A South State championship. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Ask the modest Miller, and he'll tell you the secret to his success is pretty simple, while playing hot potato with any praise or credit.
"I just get to the football," Miller said. "I've got to give thanks, first of all, to God. But without the defensive line, I wouldn't be able to make all these tackles. And I've also got to give credit to my coaches and family."
But Miller's value to the Trojans is more than just the 124 tackles he's amassed this season. More than the 420 tackles he's collected since 2010. More than the six sacks he's had over the past three years.
Miller is an extension of Duncan, acting as an authority figure on the field.
"He's like a coach out there for us," Duncan said. "He makes sure everyone's in the right place and gets everyone set."
Miller's physical stature might have something to do with his leadership qualities. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound Foxworth native found out at an early age that he'd need them to make up for being undersized.
He didn't play much during his freshman season.
"I guess they thought I was too small," he said. "So I went to work and said I'll show them my size has nothing to do with how well I can play football."
In his first start, during his sophomore year, Miller made 18 tackles against Dexter.
Duncan said Miller has drawn some interest from junior college recruiters, but nothing serious yet.
"There's a great quote I heard from a college coach once that I think fits Gabe well: 'There's two positions I don't care about size — a running back that gains yards and a linebacker that makes tackles.' And Gabe fits that mold, and I think people need to recognize that," Duncan said
Miller is also a standout catcher on the West Marion baseball team, leading the team with a .389 batting average last season. He runs the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds and has maxed out at 290 pounds on the bench press.
The second of six children, Miller said football is third only to faith and family on his list of priorities.
"That was the third word I learned — mama, daddy then football," he said. "But my family is very important to me. My older brother, Darius, especially for always pushing me to be better. He's always been the force behind who Gabe Miller really is."
While the immediate future of West Marion football may be bright, the distant future could be as well. Gabe's younger brother, Josh, is a freshman starting defensive back for the Trojans. And Gabe says his youngest brother, Noland Jr., 12, might be the best of the bunch.
"We don't want him to be as good as us," Gabe said, "we want him to be better."
Information from: The Hattiesburg American, http://www.hattiesburgamerican.com