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SERIES: Lanier Christian coach Bruce Miller finds fulfillment in leading 8-man program
A legend for his years at Gainesville High, first-year Lightning coach still has same energy for molding young men
Bruce Miller
Lanier Christian coach Bruce Miller instructs practice Sept. 13, 2021 in Flowery Branch. Photo by Robert Alfonso Jr.

Lanier Christian Academy has gotten off to a great start this season. 

The Lightning have new leadership in first-year head coach Bruce Miller.

This veteran leader has led Lanier Christian Academy (3-0) to an undefeated start for the first time in the last three seasons. Miller is adjusting to a new way in implement his high- powered offensive philosophy while learning how to coach eight-man football. 

On Friday, the Lightning will host Johnson Ferry Christian Academy at 7:30 pm. It will bring to a head two of the conference's highest scoring teams.

“Looking at them on film and looking at us on the field, I think we are both the same,” Miller said. “The questions will be, ‘Who wants it the most?’ and ‘Who can make the most big plays.”

So far, both teams have put up numbers on the scoreboard. However, eight-man football is new to Miller, who has always coached traditional 11-man football. 

Miller, who retired from teaching in 2017 never left coaching. He was on the sidelines at a lot of area school in the South Hall community before taking the reigns at Lanier Christian. 

Miller’s high-powered offenses was coming to the small private school, which played eight-man football.

“One thing eight-man football gives you is a wide-open field,” Miller said. “For a passing game, there is a lot of grass out there that you can hit and play on. It has been an adjustment for me.

“What I’ve done is taken what I’ve done in the past and just changed it to fit eight-man football.”

Eight-man football shares the same rules, procedures, and structure as the traditional 11-man game, with some differences. Eight-man football is played with eight players on offense and defense, three fewer than the 11-man game. The eliminated players are normally two offensive tackles and a skill-position player on offense and one defensive back, one linebacker and one defensive lineman on defense. Most teams, like Lanier Christian, practice 5 on 5 to get ready for games.

Eight-man football’s field is often smaller than in 11-man. The width of the field is a 40-yard wide field, and 100-yards long. While the length of the field is the same as 11-man the width is about 13 1/3-yards narrower. There is, as a result, a lot of grass to cover.

However, the grass for practice is scarce for the Lightning. They practice on a 45-yard field. Those beautiful amenities Miller had access to as the Gainesville High coach do not exist at the South Hall school. 

Miller, 69, does not let this stop him.

“If you don’t have the best of everything, make the best of everything you’ve got,” Miller said. 

Lanier Christian’s players have figured out how to use up all the grass necessary to beat its opponents thus far. The Lighting are averaging 58 points per game, which included a 78-point outburst last week against Holy Spirit Prep. The Lightning are averaging 288-yards rushing on the season. In the air, the Lightning have thrown it for an average of 58-yards per outing. Not bad for a program with a new coach, learning a new way of football.

“We have played well so far, especially on defense,” Miller added. “On defense we have played really well. Offensively, we’ve taken advantage of the things that we need.

“Our offensive line and our defensive line have done a really good job. We have to keep improving week to week.”

When Lanier Christian steps on the field against Johnson Ferry on Friday, it will be about which team makes the most big plays. The Saints are coming in with a high-powered offense as well. They have allowed six points in two games.

Miller credits three seniors, Ethan Jarrard, Pierce Mudd and Gabe Jaramillo, for being the glue of the team and in helping make his transition smooth. 

“I will say he is really good at teaching,” said Mudd, who is in a first-year player. He is good at pulling me aside and giving me grace to tell me what I need to do better. But then also, when I make a mistake there is a good balance of getting on me and pushing me to be the best I can.”

Miller, who retired from teaching in the public school setting after the 2017 season from Gainesville High, never really left the gridiron. He coached and helped at three schools in the county, Flowery Branch, Lakeview Academy, and West Hall. This was after winning the 2012 state championship as the Red Elephants head coach. 

He never wanted to leave and game and may have found a place where he looks to make the biggest impact through football, which retirement could not provide.

“I was looking to enjoy life,” he said. “Coaching is where I enjoy life and to help young men. I want to be a Christian influence on people."

Thursday’s game

Riverside Military vs. East Forsyth, 6:30 p.m.

Friday’s games

North Hall vs. Chestatee

Gainesville vs. Forsyth Central

Flowery Branch vs. Hiram

Cherokee Bluff at Lakeside-Atlanta

Johnson at Eastside

Lakeview Academy at Towns County

Lanier Christian vs. Johnson Ferry Christian

BYE: West Hall

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