ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- In his own family, Jack Miller is the oldest of three. But so far in the Michigan football family, it’s like he's the youngest of three -- he has been toughened up by the eldest, Dave Molk, and befriended by the middle, Elliott Mealer.
And like many youngest children, he has made it through, all for the better.
And somewhere in this spectrum of Michigan centers -- with Molk representing one end of surly and quick-witted, and Mealer representing the opposite end of fun-loving and reflective -- Miller has come out a much better player, ready to be a leader on the offensive line next fall.
“When you’re playing offensive line at Michigan it’s never an easy job whether you’re a fifth-year senior or a young guy, wherever your role is on the team, it’s never going to be easy,” Mealer said. “What he has ahead of him -- a chance to start -- it’s going to be a challenge, but I think between me and Dave ... he has had a good dose [of leadership].”
As a freshman he studied under Molk, a senior and eventual Rimington Award winner.
Though he never took a single game snap that season, he admits that much of his development that first year came from Molk. Both are considered undersized centers, with Molk playing 6-foot-2, 286 pounds as a senior and Miller being 6-4, 291.
“I learned a lot about how to play as an undersized guy and how to approach all of this,” Miller said. “Dave was a big help for me, he kind of took me under his wing, and I was really fortunate to have him for a year.”
Fortunate might be an operative term, in some respects.
As a true freshman, Miller became well-known not for his play but for being the player whom Molk sought out on the sidelines to head-butt before games. And while Molk said he thinks Miller’s personality is more akin to his than Mealer’s, Miller joked that he hopes he’s “more charismatic” and “a little tapered down” from the hot-headed Molk.
But like Molk, he’s ready to pass along the spotlight to someone else, happy to say that while it will be his duty to get the play-calls out and the line together, that Taylor Lewan will be this year’s offensive leader.
Molk admits that he saw a bit of himself in Miller when he got to campus, and that it was Miller’s attitude that made him stand out as a young lineman.
“He didn’t have that typical high school young kid kind of thing, that attitude, that arrogance they carry -- he was just a guy,” Molk said. “And that’s why I kind of took him in and I wanted to help him out as much as I could. Through that season he was kind of my project of ‘let me start developing something for when I’m gone.’ ”
When Molk left, the lineman shifted and Miller couldn’t have been put behind a more different player or person.
At 6-5, 308 pounds, Mealer towered over Molk physically, but was far more reserved and jovial, growing his beard out for the season and joking with reporters.
Miller and Mealer roomed together last season, and Mealer mentored when it came to football but allowed Miller to advise when it came to movies (comedies) and music (Dave Matthews Band and Bob Seger).
The two were more companions than older brother-younger brother, and Mealer has never attempted to head-butt Miller.
Mealer’s calm side has also rubbed off. He has seen how the offensive line struggled last year, and with a level head he can see what he needs to do from a technical standpoint to make it better, a more Michigan line, he says.
And with a bit of Molk and Mealer, next year’s center, albeit young and inexperienced, will have been coached and mentored by two Michigan veterans, which makes the two graduates confident that the Wolverines O-line will find success.
“He has had all different aspects of being coached up and taught how to play,” Mealer said. “You have Dave Molk who’s really smart but he’s kind of a crazy guy, tough, bad-ass. And then you have me who’s a little more mild-mannered. He has had all those different aspects and now he’ll be able to lead, go out and do it his own way.”