DENVER (CBS4) – Lacrosse is very important to DU Pioneers lacrosse player Zach Miller, but not for the reasons you may think. The sport can be traced back to his Native American roots.
“I started playing lacrosse as soon as I could hold a stick and walk,” said the freshman, who is currently DU’s third leading scorer.
Miller says he’s like most young men who grew up on his reservation and play the game.
“When you play, you play with a clear mind,” said Miller. “You don’t go out and you don’t play for any certain reason. It’s more to entertain the Creator — which is the inventor of the game.”
Miller’s Allegheny Reservation is an American Indian reservation in Cattaraugus County, New York. The population was 1,099 at the 2000 census. The reservation is primarily occupied by members of the Seneca of the Iroquois.
Miller grew up playing for the Iroquois Nation lacrosse team and now he is the first from his nation to play NCAA lacrosse.
“There has been a bunch of talented kids who could have kept going and playing in the next level but they just get caught up in the reservation life with alcohol, drugs, and girls. You just never make it out,” said Miller.
Miller was a young recruit that Pioneers head coach Bill Tierney knew he had to have.
“Well I didn’t get to know him and realize how important he would be to our program and how we’d come so close together until I met him and his mom brought him out here a couple of years ago and brought him around campus. We got to realize why a young man who was probably ticketed to go to Syracuse would take this journey,” said Tierney.
That journey also took Miller to Canada where he spent a year of high school with DU midfielder Jeremy Noble. They played together at the Hill Academy near Toronto.
Noble can appreciate what a unique talent like Miller can do for the team.
“It’s huge for this team. It just shows his pure joy that he plays for the Creator, for him and all those guys. That’s huge for this team and just watching him play you can see that and it’s almost like we want to bring something out something out within ourselves when we see Zach doing that it sort of rubs off and everyone else… it’s pretty contagious, I would say,” said Noble.
Tierney, a veteran coach who has turned the DU program into a national powerhouse, told CBS4 he has “learned more from Zach than he has from me.”
“I’ve been in this game a long, long time and he’s taught me about his approach to the game and how he goes about his business pregame, post game,” he said.
“There have been games where he’s scored four or five goals and I’ve said to him, ‘How’d you play today?’ He’d say, ‘Okay.’ And there might be other games where he might have a goal or an assist and I’d say, ‘How’d you play today?’ and he’d say, ‘Really well.’ He gets it.”
Meeting his goals on the field is relatively easy for Miller. But it’s meeting his goals in the classroom that Miller must focus on.
“(It’s) way different than high school (where) you’ve got mom and dad there to watch over you,” Miller told CBS4. “Here it’s more independent where I’ve gotten into trouble a little bit but coach has been there to kick me in the butt and keep me going.”
“It’s been a good symbiotic relationship between the two of us. I promised his mom I’d take care of him,” said Tierney.
Miller said the movie “Crooked Arrows” is a good example of how important lacrosse is to his people.
“(It’s about) a Native American lacrosse team who grow up on the reservation and they just overcome all the adversity that comes with it,” said Miller.
Miller says his biggest fan is his grandfather Brian who drives 1,500 miles in his pickup truck from Allegheny to see all of Miller’s games in Denver.
The DU Pioneers advanced to their third Final Four in the past four years by beating Drexel over the weekend. They will play Duke in the semifinals next Saturday in Baltimore.