Jimmy Miller and Alec Johnson are two senior offensive linemen who have had a roller coaster of a career at San Diego State. They came to San Diego together in 2008 from J.K. Mullen High School in Denver, Colo., and redshirted their first season as the Aztecs posted a 2-10 record.
Over the past four seasons, Miller has been a versatile player on the offensive line. He has seen time at center and both guard positions, and has been a reliable option at all three spots.
Johnson has been a solid contributor for the Aztecs, playing guard early in his career and center for the last two seasons. Known for gritty play and toughness, he has battled through broken bones in his hands and feet while still starting 38 consecutive games (tied with cornerback Leon McFadden for longest current streak). This season, he was an All-Mountain West second-team selection at center.
In an amazing turnaround, these two linemen are now senior leaders who have played an integral role on a 9-3 team that won the Mountain West Conference championship and is gearing up for its third straight bowl game. They have come a long way in their journey at SDSU, and I sat down with them and asked them some questions about their experience.
Q: When did you realize that you wanted to play football?
JM: “I realized I wanted to start playing when I was probably 8 or 9 years old. I got signed up for Pop Warner and started playing when I was in fourth grade.”
AJ: “I wanted to play when I was young, but my parents held me out until I was in fourth grade. They made me play soccer when I was growing up, but I knew at a young age that I wanted to play football.”
Q: What was your high school career at J.K. Mullen like?
JM: “It was great. I was there for three years. We didn’t win the state championship like we should have at least two of the three years, but it was great playing for a winning program and a team that was one of the best every year.”
AJ: “I liked it a lot. I played defensive line as a freshman and started a couple games, and then I was moved to offensive line as a sophomore. I had a blast playing at Mullen. It was definitely fun winning a lot of games, but I just wish we won more state championships.”
Q: How did your recruiting process go and why did you eventually choose San Diego State?
JM: “The recruiting process was pretty good. SDSU was the first school to offer me, and they stuck behind me for a long time so I had a good connection with them. I felt it would be a great opportunity to get out of Colorado and try something new.”
AJ: “I liked the coaches a lot. Some of my other offers were kind of dried up, and I took a trip out here and I loved it. I knew it was definitely a place I could see myself playing.”
Q: What was your mindset like when you redshirted in 2008 and your team was 2-10?
JM: “It was rough because we came from a winning program in high school, so winning was instilled in us. It was a shock going from winning a lot to a 2-10 record. It was tough knowing that you couldn’t do anything about it at the time, but I think it helped pave the way for what we’ve done now.”
AJ: “It sucked sitting on the sideline and losing to Cal Poly the first game. I was just thinking, “What did I do?” It’s a weird feeling not having any control over it, just watching your teammates go out there and struggle. I think it definitely helped us in the long run because we didn’t ever want to do that again.”
Q: How have you seen the culture and attitude change in the program now that you have been a part of this great turnaround at SDSU?
JM: “It’s been great. Everything that (Brady) Hoke and his staff instilled has carried on to us now as a senior class and the new coaches are doing a good job. It’s been great to see the turnaround that we’ve had, and the accountability and work ethic that we hold each other to.”
AJ: “The hard work that we put in is expected here now. We take great pride in how hard we work as a team. I think that the biggest change from my freshman year to now is that the team is a lot more unified. There aren’t any splinters or separate groups. The team works well together and it shows on the field.”
Q: You have had four different offensive line coaches during your time here, what was that like and how did you enjoy working with new offensive line coach Mike Schmidt this season?
JM: “It took a little bit of getting used to, going from high school and having one coach to having three different coaches my first three years. It was tough, but you work with the new coaches and learn small details from them. It’s been great with Coach Schmidt. Having played with him our freshman year here, it’s a little different having a coach that young, but the season has been going great with him.”
AJ: “It was different having to learn to deal with four different coaches. But now, we saw how hard Coach Schmidt worked as a freshman and he was a good player. He knew how to play offensive line and he knew what he was talking about, so we definitely take advice from him well. The young guys respect him and appreciate what he brings to the table.”
Q: What are some of your most memorable moments playing football for the Aztecs?
JM: “Going to three straight bowl games has been a lot of fun. To top it all off this year, winning the 19th championship, I think that, above everything else, will be at the top. Some of the games that we had this year on the road were some of the most fun games I’ve ever been a part of. This season has been the perfect way to end my career.”
AJ: “The bowl games were awesome, but the conference championship is something that I will remember forever. It’s definitely nice to think about all the work that we put in and how it has paid off. Now we just need to beat BYU, we haven’t beat them since I’ve been here, so I’m excited for that game.”
Q: What have you enjoyed the most off the field at SDSU?
JM: “Being in the locker room everyday with all the guys, you build relationships with everybody. I’ve had the best time just hanging out with the other guys off the field, whether it was in the dorms our first two years, or the houses we all live at now. I’ve had the most fun just hanging out with all my teammates.”
AJ: “Hanging out with friends and teammates that you’re with all the time is a blast. I will always remember the times hanging out with my teammates off the field.”
Q: You two have played together for 8 years now, what has that experience been like?
JM: “It’s been fun. It’s always good when you play with somebody for that long because you know how he plays. When you trust the person next to you and know what they are going to be doing, it’s definitely a step ahead of what others can do. It’s been a really fun experience.”
AJ: “It’s good because you trust each other with a critical eye. We can both comment on seeing certain things during a play and know exactly what we’re talking about and what we’re doing.”
Q: What does the phrase “Aztec for life” mean to you?
JM: “When I’m looking back at college, the past five years will be just a short period, but it builds up and sticks with you for the rest of your life. These friendships that I’ve made here and the championship that we won, no one will ever be able to take that away from me. I’m an Aztec for life and I have Aztec brothers that I’ll be able to call my friends for the rest of my life.”
AJ: “We’ve put so much time in over these past five years, and these guys are my family. I’ll always look back on all the great guys that I played with and coaches that I’ve had. I’ll definitely cherish all that for a long time.”
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by Hunter Hewitt