Fremont New Messenger- Athlete of the year candidate Miller holds five school records
Kevin Shields, Fremont News Messenger
George Bergman has seen some of the best wrestlers this area has known come and go through his Oak Harbor program over the years.
J.D. Bergman, Cody Magrum, Keith Witt and Kirk Tank are only a few.
But he's never quite had a wrestler like Ian Miller -- and he may not again.
"Ian's talent level is off the charts," Bergman said. "He's very strong and very explosive. He's probably the best, the most dynamic and most explosive wrestler I've coached at Oak Harbor. Just about every major record we have is his."
Miller's got five of them to be exact, including most career victories (173), career falls (108), victories in a season (51), falls in a season (42) and most consecutive wins by fall (24). The last three records were established this past season when Miller (51-1) finished as state runner-up in Division II at 152 pounds.
Miller is the second of six seniors in the News-Messenger's 14th annual Michael K. Bosi Athlete of the Year series.
"Those are all big to have," Miller said of owning school records at a program with 21 state champions. "Going into the year, I was looking at the records and I knew I could break most of them. To own the ones I do is big. It's a special thing."
J.D. Bergman and Magrum each won multiple state titles at Oak Harbor. Miller won a title at 145 pounds as a junior. This past season he lost a 2-0 overtime decision in the state finals to St. Paris Graham's Matt Stephens -- the projected state runner-up.
Had Miller won, he would've been the seventh Oak Harbor wrestler to ever win multiple titles. Yet, he owns a championship neither J.D. nor Magrum ever achieved.
With an 8-6 finals win over Montini (Ill.) Catholic's Stephen Robertson, Miller became the Rockets' first titlist at the prestigious, annual Iron Man tournament at Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit. Robertson came in as a two-time state champion in Illinois.
"That's probably my biggest accomplishment in wrestling," Miller said, whose lone loss as a junior came in the Iron Man finals. "Being the first champion there for Oak Harbor means a lot. I went into the tournament not really thinking about it, then came out on top."
Coach Bergman called the Iron Man event, "the country's toughest tournament."
"The Iron Man is tougher than the state tournament," he said. "It definitely put Ian in exclusive company. But there is nothing like winning a state title either. And there's something about winning in front of the 14 or 15,000 people that watch the state tournament each year. So losing at state was still very disappointing for Ian."
Few opponents lasted more than a few minutes on the mat with Miller.
"He's so good on his feet," George said. "He also takes good shots at his opponents, he's good at lifts, and he finishes takedowns. And no one worked harder than him in the wrestling room."
Takedowns are tough to come by when you're mostly pinning your opponents in the first minute. Still, Miller finished with 156 takedowns as a senior and had 446 for his four-year career -- the second-most in program history.
Wrestling has long been a part of the Miller family. Miller's father got him started on the mat in kindergarten. Over the years he developed a close relationship with four-time state champion Erik Burnett, who he wrestled for at the Junior Nationals dual tournament last summer.
Burnett became a personal coach for Miller, and it wasn't uncommon for the two to do work during times others would rather rest.
"Ian might win a tournament on Saturday night and then work with Erik on Sunday," coach Bergman said of Miller's in-season routine in an interview with the News Herald last June. "Just working with guys like that, he'll keep getting better and better."
Miller won an eighth grade title at junior high state and beat a former state champion at state duals as a freshman. Only Magrum and Keith Witt had won junior high titles before Miller.
Miller took third at state as a sophomore. He was unable to qualify as a freshman after an injury before sectionals.
"We knew we had something special when he came in," George Bergman said. "Each year he got a little bit better and in junior high he took it to another level."
Miller pinned his way through a fourth-consecutive Sandusky Bay Conference Championships as the Rockets won their fifth-straight crown this past winter. It was the last championship Miller got to experience with classmates Konner Witt and Jake Cramer.
"It's been an awesome trip with them," Miller said. "We grew up wrestling together. We were a close group, and it was great being able to go to state with them and having all of us compete in the finals together."
But Miller wasn't just a wrestler, he could make plenty of plays with his feet on the soccer field, too.
The Rockets (16-3) broke the school record for wins each of the last three seasons. They won 15 and 10 games, respectively, the previous two seasons.
Miller was an honorable mention all-SBC pick for coach Rob Schimmoeller as a senior, scoring 20 goals.
"He's just a natural athlete and a gifted scorer," Schimmoeller said. "Ian brought a toughness to our team and that winning attitude he got from wrestling."
On the wrestling mats, Miller loved to be a mentor for his younger teammates, sitting mat-side ready to give them a few pointers as they walked off. Having just started playing soccer as a junior, however, the roles shifted.
"There was no pressure when I played soccer," Miller said. "We had great players. They taught me the ropes and made it easy for me."
As a junior, Miller scored the only goal for Oak Harbor in a 2-1 loss to Lexington in the district finals.
"He just naturally picked the game up," Schimmoeller said. "We just had to teach him a few moves and let him play. He won a lot of balls for us through intimidation."
By nature, Miller was the perfect forward.
"He was a finisher," Schimmoeller said. "But he could also flip throw a ball all the way into the box. Just tells you the athletic ability that he had."
Miller is taking that athletic ability to Kent State, where he'll wrestle with former high school teammate Keith Witt.
"The sky is the limit for Ian," George Bergman said. "He can accomplish whatever he puts his mind to. He's that talented."
Schimmoeller agreed. "He's just destined for greatness with how hard he works."