Patricia Sheridan's Breakfast With ... Heath Miller

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Virginia native Earl Heath Miller Jr. was known as the best college tight end in the country when he played for the University of Virginia. Since then, the 30-year-old has spent a productive career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, winning two Super Bowls, No. 83 is known for his quiet reserve, great hands and passion for the game. Off the field, he and wife Kate are focused on their children, who range in age from nearly 6 months to 4 years old. He is now recovering from major knee surgery. Steelers' training camp opens Friday at Saint Vincent College with the first practice open to the public on Saturday.

I know you got attention as a high school and college athlete, but how do you adjust to it when you reach your level of success?

I'm not sure I've ever totally adjusted to the attention that comes along with being a professional athlete. I think you appreciate the fans and try to put yourself in their shoes. I know when I was a kid I followed all professional sports. I try to remember those feelings I would have had as a kid to be able to meet a professional athlete and approach things that way.

Did you ever get to meet one?

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with Heath Miller.

[Laughing.] I think I met Doc Rivers, the coach for the [Boston] Celtics, one time at a basketball camp. I definitely had good memories, positive memories from it.

Your children are young, but they get exposed to lots of professional athletes. Do they get excited?

They're not old enough to realize, I guess. They just know dad goes to work, and he plays football. They think that's cool [laughing]. That's about all that they know.

If they ever want to play football, would you say, "Go for it"?

I think so. You know, football has obviously opened a lot of doors for me. It has certainly been a very positive thing in my life. It's taught me a lot of lessons that I don't know if I could have learned anywhere else.

What were those lessons? What was the most important thing you got out of it?

You learn a lot about yourself throughout the whole athletic process. Everything is not going to be smooth, and you are going to face adversity. As people say, when you face adversity is when you learn who you are as a person. You have to decide how you are going to deal with things, and certainly football provides a lot of adversity each and every day. I think that's where you start to build your character. Football helps you to do that.

So, Heath, have you become really in tune with your body being an athlete for so long? Are you a health nut?

I don't know if I'm a health nut. I certainly became more conscious of my body. I think as an athlete if you've done something for as long as I have you are in tune with how your body feels, what works or doesn't work for you. As I've grown older, I have tried to become more and more aware of healthy choices food-wise and the way I train.

Maybe I've learned I can't train as hard as I did when I was 22. My body doesn't react the same way [laughs], but at the same time I have to train hard enough to get the work in and be in good shape to perform.

You are only 30. It's amazing that you can see a difference in that period of time.

Thanks. Well, in our sport, 30 is kind of seen as an older player. In the grand scheme of things, 30, you're still a young man, I guess. That's maybe the approach I should take from now on.

Football is a tenuous job. At any moment you could have a career-ending injury. So going into it, did you have a backup plan?

When I went to college, my approach was football has opened a lot of doors for me. It's given me this opportunity to go to a great school, the University of Virginia, and come out with a good education. Somewhere along the line when I was at Virginia I thought maybe this could be a career for me. But moving forward, I think the average NFL career is three or four years, so you don't know how long you are going to be able to do this whether it be injury or a bad situation. There are so many variables that go into being able to play for a long time. I have been fortunate enough to do this for going on nine years. I think a lot of that is just good fortune.

So going in you know you have to be financially aware and plan for the future.

Certainly you have to realize to be able to do what we do and earn the money we make, it's a small window that you can earn it, so you need to save it and put it away for the rest of your life. It's not like you are a doctor who makes a good income and can make this income until they are 65 years old. We have a short window to earn our money, and we have to be aware of that and realize the paychecks aren't coming for very long.

What do you like doing in the off season other than spending time with your family?

[Laughing.] Well, right now we have three kids, 4 years and younger, so that's it for me right now. I enjoy fishing when I have time, but I don't have much time to do that now with three little ones at home. They provide a lot of joy and you know, parenthood teaches you a lot about yourself as well. They like to go to the park, so we spend a lot of time at the park and outside.

You had the concussion that everyone watched on television. Does that worry your wife?

Yeah, I think it definitely causes her a lot of worry. She's a very strong woman. I think it probably worries her a lot more than she lets on. You know, during the season she is raising the three kids, and we are gone a lot of weekends. For training camp we are gone for three weeks. A lot falls on her shoulders. I owe her a great deal. It takes a special lady to be able to do what she does.

It had to be scary for her to watch the concussion happen.

She was actually eight or nine months pregnant with our second baby when that happened, so you can imagine the grief she had at that time.

What's it like to have a concussion? Do you remember anything?

There are all different kinds. In my case, I was knocked out for a little bit. Some guys are just fuzzy, memory loss, you know, just don't feel quite right. Some guys maybe have headaches, so there's all different levels and things that come from it. It's hard to specify one or two things. It was a little hazy, to be honest with you. It took me a while to realize what happened.

I have heard you talk about your knee surgery and say you are taking it day to day. It made me think of so many athlete interviews where the answers are so diplomatic. Do they train you guys to respond certain ways to certain questions?

[Laughing.] I think as you learn throughout the process of football that really is the best approach to take. Tomorrow is not a given, especially in this sport. You approach each and every day with your best effort. When I'll be back, I don't know. It's too far ahead to make any speculation. I just want to focus on the short term and try to get better every day. If I do that, I think that will add up to a good outcome.

So are you working on a touchdown dance?

[Laughing.] No, no. No one wants to see me dance. We'll leave it at that.

You are so calm after you score.

I'm excited. I'm excited. I guess I show it a little differently.

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Patricia Sheridan: or 412-263-2613. Follow her on Twitter at First Published July 22, 2013 4:00 AM


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