NEW YORK CITY — The possibility of having a sophomore slump is nowhere on the mind of Columbia University’s Dante Miller.
A 2018 graduate from Richmond Senior High School, Miller, a running back, has spent the summer gearing up for his second season with the Lions’ football program. After having an explosive start to his freshman campaign last fall that saw him write his name in Columbia’s record book, a mid-season injury shortened Miller’s season to just six games.
During a home game against Dartmouth College on Oct. 20, Miller suffered a fractured left tibia which resulted in him missing the rest of his first year. The untimely injury came just five weeks after Miller was named the Ivy League’s “Rookie of the Week” following the season opener at Central Connecticut State University.
In that contest, Miller rushed for 93 yards on just eight carries, while also scoring his first career touchdown. His average of 11.6 yards per carry during that game is the eighth best mark in Columbia’s program history, but it was his touchdown that put him in the spotlight.
After taking a handoff from quarterback Dillon Davis, Miller exploded down the left sideline for an 83-yard score. The sprint marked the longest touchdown run by a first-year player in program history, and was also the school’s sixth longest touchdown and overall run.
“I feel a lot faster and my explosion has increased,” Miller told ROSports. “I was back on my feet jogging and running about five weeks after my injury. A lot of my rehab happened after I got out of my boot, and I did most of it myself. I went home during winter break, jogged to the gym every morning, and now I’m back to 100 percent.
“I’ve also increased my squat and gained about 10 pounds of muscle,” he added with a laugh. “I’m feeling pretty big and my leg is fine. It’s not a lingering injury like a torn ligament, and the bone has grown stronger. I don’t think about the injury, but I do think about what I need to do to get better.”
During six games last fall, Miller collected 317 rushing yards and one touchdown, while also hauling in 22 receiving yards on five catches. With a clean slate and his injury a thing of the past, Miller has big aspirations for not only himself, but the entire Lions team during his sophomore season.
“This is a bigger season for the whole team.” Miller explained. “We’re out to prove that all the hard work we put in over summer, studying film and running routes, is going to pay off. This season should show that the Columbia Lions can win games and win the (Ivy League) conference championship.
“Not just me, but a lot of guys have put in a lot of work this summer,” he continued. “There’s a chip on my shoulder toward the injury, so I’m just going to do the best I can to help our program.”
According to the Lions’ website, Columbia was voted to finish sixth out of eight teams in the Ivy League this fall. The Lions were preceded by Yale, Dartmouth, Princeton, Harvard and Penn. Last season, Columbia finished in a three-way tie for fourth place, and recorded back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1961 and 1962.
Head coach Al Bagnoli, the nation’s current winningest college football coach at any level, will begin his fifth season at the helm of the program.
While Miller noted he’s out to prove his resiliency following his leg injury, he emphasized that he alone can’t make Columbia’s season successful.
“Of course I have plenty of personal goals, but that’s not the main focus for me,” he said. “By being the best leader I can be on the team, I want to help us win. Football is a team game and everyone has to be committed. The only thing on our minds is to win the Ivy League and do it together as a team.”
At this point in the pre-season, Miller is unsure if he’ll be the No. 1 or No. 2 running back. But the sophomore said “it doesn’t really matter” because the offense’s rotation will allow him to see plenty of playing time.
In the classroom, Miller is also looking to tackle his second year, having recently switched his major to political science and sustainable development. He added that life in the Big Apple is “a lot of fun.”
“I want to wish good luck to the Raiders this season,” Miller closed of his high school team. “It’s been great to be able to witness everything my high school program has been doing since I graduated. I’m hoping they can win a state championship, and Coach (Bryan) Till is doing great things.”
Miller and the Lions will open their season on the road at Saint Francis University (Loretto, Pa.) on Saturday, Sept. 21, at 1 p.m.