Estill County High School senior Austin “Yum-Yum” Miller has been nominated to receive the 2009 “Rudy Award.”
This award is given to high school football players who “demonstrate the exemplary values of inspirational football legend Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger. It will not be won by the most talented players with the best stats, but by the player with the biggest heart.
Austin, 18, is the son of Lee and Jason Freeman and Billy Miller.
In the letter his mother wrote in which she asked that he be nominated, she wrote that she was told when he was seven years old that he is legally blind.
“They explained to me that he was seeing the world worse than if I was under water with my eyes open,” Lee wrote.
She wrote that doctors told her they could perform experimental surgery on his eyes that might not work and that could leave him completely blind.
She decided not to take that risk.
“And so the battle began,” she wrote. “With eye therapy to try to strenthen the vision he had. His first pair of glasses were one inch thick bifocals.”
Her letter continued by explaining that the only thing that Austin ever really loved was football.
“With his vision and his size against him, he always had to work harder than everyone else on the team. There were many nights when he had migraines from vision therapy that hurt him so terribly that he would become physically sick. He still never missed a practice or complained since he began playing in second grade.”
He began playing in Oxford, Ohio and got to play at the Bengals Stadium at the Youth League Invitational Bowl.
The family moved to Kentucky and soon found there was no youth football league in Estill County.
“I remember him telling me that his life was over without football. I just thought he was being dramatic but soon he became withdrawn and didn’t have any interest in anything,” she wrote.
She wrote that she and some other parents asked the Pop Warner League in Richmond to allow their children to play in that league.
Eight years later, the Estill County Youth Football League stands on its own. Several teams from surrounding counties come to the annual Choo-Choo Bowl played at Estill High every year.
She wrote that Austin has been a great recruiter for the local youth league by telling kids that they need to become a part of something bigger than themselves.
In high school Lee said he became a hitting dummy for the bigger players. He looked forward to his senior year in high school so he would get more playing time.
He then got word that he might not get to play as much as he had hoped.
Lee said she told him he could quit if he wanted to, but he replied that football is what he lives for and that “whatever Coach says he needs me to do for the benefit of the team is what I am doing.”
Coach Mike Jones once told Lee that the difference between a good player and a great player is not the size of the player but the size of the player’s heart. He said that if all his boys had a heart like Austin they could go undefeated.
Austin plans to work with Jones as an assistant coach next year while he attends Eastern Kentucky University majoring in education.
Nominations are taken from all over the country and three finalists will all receive college scholarships. The overall winner will be dubbed America’s Most Inspirational High School Football Player. He will receive his award from Rudy Ruettiger himself at a special award ceremony.
(If you want to vote for Austin to win the Rudy Award you may do so by going to http://highschoolrudyawards.com/Nominees/237/nominee.aspx?pid=237)