Feature Friday: Jimmy Miller and Alec Johnson

Jimmy Miller and Alec Johnson block

Jimmy Miller and Alec Johnson have played eight seasons of football together, but none of which as exciting as their last (Ernie Anderson/SDSU Media Relations)

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

GO AZTECS

Warrior Wednesday: Ernie Anderson

Aztecs for life

ROLE REVERSAL – San Diego State photographer Ernie Anderson has a picture of him taken for a change

In a life where everything seems to be moving too fast at times, photographs have become a way to capture memorable moments and relive them forever.

Action photos from sporting events are some of the most popular, and these types of pictures are frequently seen on the official website of San Diego State athletics. While everyone enjoys seeing these photos, one thing people rarely see is the man behind the camera.

For San Diego State football, that’s Ernie Anderson.

A graduate of SDSU, Anderson was a member of the track team in the late 1960s. After feeling that his team deserved more coverage in the school newspaper, he decided to take matters into his own hands.

“I started taking photos at the track meets and taking them in to the Daily Aztec,” Anderson said. “They started using them and asked me if I had ever taken photos of football. I hadn’t, but I started with taking photos of Spring practice in 1968 and everything expanded from there.”

Soon after, Anderson became the photo editor for the Daily Aztec. Although he enjoyed his time as a photographer in college, he knew it wasn’t something he wanted to make a career out of.

“I’ve always had a creative side and photography satisfied that need,” Anderson said. “I decided I didn’t want to do it for a living because I wanted to take photos of what was exciting for me and not go on assignments that someone else dictated.”

After graduating from SDSU in 1970, Anderson earned a degree in public administration, and went on to receive his masters in the same field. Following his educational days, Anderson became the City of San Diego General Services Department Director. During this time, he continued to take photos at Aztec sporting events, but it wasn’t until he retired eight years ago that he began devoting more time to his photography.

Today, Anderson works as a volunteer and takes photos of SDSU sports, primarily football and basketball. Over the years, he has taken photos of Aztec legends such as Don Coryell, Brian Sipe, Tony Gwynn, Stephen Strasburg and others. His work has been published in national publications, including Sports Illustrated, but the relationships and memories mean much more to him.

“Aside from the challenge of getting the best photographs I can to preserve these moments in time, the relationships I’ve developed over the years with coaches, athletes and fans have been very satisfying,” Anderson said. “I volunteer my time as a way to give back to the school that has been a very important part of my life. I’m an Aztec for life.”

Ernie

Ernie Anderson during his college years in 1968 at San Diego State

Throwback Thursday: Kabeer and Akbar Gbaja-Biamila

Kabeer (left) and Akbar (right) Gbaja-Biamila are two former Aztec players who went on to have NFL careers

Peyton and Eli Manning. Tiki and Ronde Barber. Sterling and Shannon Sharpe.

Brother combinations in the NFL are rare, and these duos are some of the most famous. But even more uncommon is a pair of brothers who attended the same college before having successful NFL careers.

This is exactly what San Diego State alums Kabeer and Akbar Gbaja-Biamila did. With their impressive on-the-field resumes, the Gbaja-Biamila brothers could easily be considered the best sibling duo in school history.

Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila tallied a school-record 33 sacks during his career at SDSU from 1996-1999. He was a three-time all-conference selection, and went on to have an illustrious NFL career with the Green Bay Packers. He also set the Packers’ franchise record with 74.5 career sacks in his nine-year career, passing legendary defensive end Reggie White in the process.

Akbar Gbaja-Biamila was a standout linebacker for the Aztecs from 1998-2002. He was an All-Mountain West Conference selection as a senior in 2002, when he wreaked havoc on opposing teams with current NFL linebacker Kirk Morrison. He played four seasons in the NFL, two of which with the Oakland Raiders.

Although these brothers were incredibly skilled on the field, they are much more than football players. Akbar has recently established himself in the sports broadcasting industry, while Kabeer has been actively involved with politics, churches and local school boards.

I spoke with these two brothers about their journey—from young children growing up in Crenshaw, California, to the men they are today.

Q: You grew up in a household with six brothers and one sister, was it a real competitive household?

KGB: “It was very competitive. We used to wrestle, we used to have eating competitions on Thanksgiving, all different kinds of competitions. I was the wrestling champion, I usually dominated the rest of the siblings. We were very competitive, and I think that helped us in college and in the pros.”

AGB: “Having six other siblings was very competitive. We were big WWF (World Wrestling Federation, now WWE) fans, and were to have Royal Rumbles in the house. We got into some wrestling matches and we broke walls that my dad had to patch up over and over again. I remember making belts out of tinfoil and cardboard. We all wanted to win the heavyweight championship, and Kabeer was the first one to win it. I’ll never forget that day.”

Q: You both went to Crenshaw High School, what was your high school athletic career like?

KGB: “I played both ways all through high school. I played offensive tackle, tight end, defensive end and linebacker. The coach thought I was too skinny and wanted me to play linebacker, but I begged him to give me a chance at defensive line. I just remember finding any way I could to cause havoc in the backfield. Playing offensive tackle and tight end gave me a huge advantage because I learned what was hard to block from the offensive perspective.”

AGB: “Growing up in our neighborhood with a lot of gangs, if you wore a Crenshaw basketball sweater nobody would mess with you. As a little kid, all I knew was that I wanted to play basketball for Crenshaw, and then play for the Lakers. My first girlfriend was a Spalding basketball. I would dribble the ball all the time and my life revolved around basketball. In high school, I reached a point where I had center and power forward skills but I wasn’t tall enough to play either position. The football coach begged me to play and that’s how I transitioned to football.”

Q: What was your recruiting process and what led you to eventually choose SDSU?

KGB: “The recruiting process was very interesting. I got recruited by SDSU, San Jose State, Colorado State, and Fresno State. I ended up picking SDSU because I really felt good about (defensive line) coach Ken Delgado and it was closer to home.” 

AGB: “The recruiting process was a lot of fun. I was recruited by Colorado State, Cal, Oregon, and SDSU. In the Nigerian household that I grew up in, academics were higher than anything. I wanted to go to Cal at first, and my parents really wanted me to go there too, but I ended up choosing San Diego State. I wanted to have the opportunity to play with my brother for the first time.”

Q: What did you enjoy most about your time at SDSU?

KGB: “I enjoyed my teammates, coaches, and others in the athletic department. It was a very good experience. I remember going to the Las Vegas Bowl, that was a huge accomplishment for us, we didn’t win but we made it there. Breaking the sacks record a great memory for me too.”

AGB: “I think the thing that I enjoyed the most was the camaraderie that I had with my team. I fell in love with the beauty of San Diego, the university and the teachers, I had a lot of teachers who were very personable and helped me guide me through college. I never missed a class because I really enjoyed all of them.”

Q: What was your NFL experience like?

KGB: “The NFL was a great experience. It was very cool to play for a franchise team like the Green Bay Packers. My coaches in the NFL really believed in me and helped me elevate my career to the next level. They always told me that I was just at the tip of the iceberg with my talent, and they helped me do great things. I ended up breaking Reggie White’s record for most sacks in Packers’ history, and that was a huge accomplishment for me.”

AGB: “I took a lot from the NFL experience and it was a blessing. I wasn’t a huge football fan growing up, I was more of a basketball historian. Meeting and playing with childhood idols like Jerry Rice was amazing. Who would have thought a young kid from Crenshaw would be sitting in the presence of Jerry Rice? I played with a lot of legends, guys like Tim Brown, Bill Romanowski, Dana Stubblefield, and others. I learned a lot of wisdom from those guys and that will always be a highlight for me.”

Q: What are you up to now?

KGB: “Right now I do a lot of volunteer work. I dabble in politics, and I have an interest in making a difference on the governmental level both locally and nationally. Right now though the biggest thing I’m doing is taking care of my dad, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease three years ago and he moved in with me. That has slowed me down a bit but it has been a blessing because I am able to stay home more and be there for my six kids and my wife. I volunteer at their school, Providence Academy in Green Bay. I work with the school board and I try to stay involved with the churches in the area here.”

AGB: “Towards the end of my NFL career, I started to realize that I needed to figure out what I wanted to do next. I was a part of the first class of the NFL Broadcasting Boot Camp in 2005, and I learned a lot about the business. I started doing stuff with NBC 7/39, and that was the start for me. Now, I have my first studio gig with the NFL network and I’m co-hosting a fantasy football show.”

Q: What does the phrase “Aztec for life” mean to you?

KGB: “It’s all about the black and red. I am an always an Aztec. I keep up with them as much as I can. it’s tough to catch games on television but I keep track of them on the Internet, and it’s always good to see them doing well. I am an Aztec for life no matter what, and being inducted into the Aztec Hall of Fame was very cool for me.”

AGB: “Aztec for life means you genuinely bleed red and black. If you were to cut open the flesh, you will see red and black blood. There is a certain pride that we have. When Marshall (Faulk) and I are working with the NFL Network, every opportunity we get we try to cough up the name. We find a way to talk about Ryan Lindley, Vincent Brown, Ronnie Hillman, anybody we can talk about. I’m always following the team and any opportunity I get to come to a game, I’ll be there.”

Follow Kabeer on Twitter

Follow Akbar on Twitter


By Hunter Hewitt