Teammates try to keep McMiller’s memory, spirit alive

Michael Casagrande

The weekend before finals week is typically reserved for last minute cramming and quiet rest.

The warm Saturday afternoon of May 3 was supposed to be a relaxing day for Trey McMiller. A fishing trip in Corbin was the perfect way to alleviate the impending stress that accompanies finals week.

But the day’s events took a sudden and tragic turn when McMiller’s canoe overturned. The 19-year-old freshman wide receiver from Apopka, Fla. drowned, leaving behind devastated friends and teammates.

Sophomore defensive back Artis Neal spent that same Saturday with some friends and his Playstation when the phone rang. Neal was left in a state of shock when the voice on the phone informed him of what he called “a freak accident.”

Neal and McMiller were best friends since kindergarten and had played together since Pop Warner football. The aftermath of McMiller’s death left Neal wanting to return to Apopka, but a voice of reason kept him on the Hill.

The voice, belonging to McMiller’s parents, convinced the confused Neal to stay at Western because that is what Trey would have wanted him to do.

“It feels like he is still here to me,” Neal said. “It just feels like he is on a vacation. I am in the locker he had last year, so it is like we are sharing a locker.”

Sophomore wide receiver Earl Clayton also grew up with McMiller on and off the playing field. Clayton can’t help but light up when he talks about his fallen teammate and the great times they had on the gridiron.

If it weren’t for McMiller, Clayton would not have been a Hilltopper. McMiller and his parents talked to and convinced Clayton to journey north to Bowling Green.

Clayton said McMiller’s parents continue to support their son’s teammates and friends from Apopka and have plans to come to a few Western games this season.

When the McMillers get to Smith Stadium, they will see the love the Western football family still has for their son. The team will wear stickers on the back of their helmets displaying McMiller’s No. 81.

Offensive coordinator T.J. Weist helped mold McMiller into a rising star last fall. Although McMiller only caught four passes during the 2002 season, Weist had big plans for his sophomore campaign.

“It’s really a great loss for the receivers emotionally because he was such a big part of offense not just physically, but as a leader,” Weist said. “He came out here positively everyday. He exemplified, even as a young player, really what we want our receivers to be.”

Weist projected McMiller to be one of the Toppers top three receivers when spring drills came to a close. In the Red-White scrimmage on April 26, McMiller caught two passes for 22 yards in what turned out to be his final appearance in a Western uniform.

Coach David Elson described McMiller as “one of the good guys” with an illuminating smile.

“It was sad and unfortunate that it had to happen,” Elson said. “We saw that Trey struggled during his freshman season, but he saw the light at the end of the tunnel. His best was still ahead of him.”

Reach Michael Casagrande at [email protected]