Big Mike: Larger than Life

Sam Farris

Sam Farris

By SAM FARRIS
Special to the Times

I entered junior high in 2008, and made that long awaited transition from rec-league athletics to being on the school team. I was taking my first steps to representing the school as a student athlete, just like I had always dreamed.

Because of a battle with cancer, I was never actually able to participate as a player, but I was still a part of the team out of the graciousness of my coach, who named me is personal assistant. I attended practice, kept up with player stats, and even discussed strategy with the other coaches.

Going into my eighth grade year there were high expectations for a Mantachie team returning a lot of talent from the previous season, and we were all eager to see how we shaped up against some of the other area teams.

One point in the season we always looked forward to was the Itawamba county tournament, where IAHS was always expected to win and Tremont and Mantachie were the hearty underdogs.

That season’s IAHS team possessed two of the most athletic individuals the county had ever seen, one being current MSU running back Ashton Shumpert, who was a freshman at the time. The second diamond was the team’s captain, a true marvel on and off the floor, Maikhail Miller.

Maikhail was feared throughout Northeast Mississippi. Guys were worried about guarding him weeks before they even played him. Students from all over the area would skip their school’s football game on Friday night to go watch Maikhail, then a junior, play quarterback for the Indians.

Maikhail’s fable, much like Bo Jackson, was that he seemed to excel in everything that he did, and was always the biggest, strongest, and fastest guy on the playing surface. This raw talent earned Miller an opportunity to play quarterback at both Ole Miss and Murray State.

Adding to the mythical man, Miller illustrated a larger than life character away from sports. He was always smiling, always picking his teammates up, and always showing respect to the people around him.

At any point he could have waged turmoil almost without match, but part of the fable of “Big Mike” was that underneath his large muscular stature was a young man who was the epitome of what parents want their sons to be. Ne’er a bad word could have been spoken, because Mike, though a fierce competitor, was a gentle giant with the softest of hearts.

I had heard people at school talk about this “unstoppable force,” but I was skeptical of the hype. I was taught never to fear an opponent, because fear was the fastest way to defeat. Then I laid eyes on Maikhail.

When I first saw him I thought I was looking at a Greek god. He was standing feet in front of me warming up, and he was nothing short of a physical specimen. My first thought was, “this guy could score 100 points if he wanted to, and there’s nothing we could do about it.”

As fate would have it, the underdog Mustangs stole one from Itawamba and emerged as the 2009-2010 County Tournament Champions, in a true nail-biter. As expected, Maikhail had a big game, but his team fell short.

When the final buzzer sounded and many fans and coaches were debating the outcome, there stood a mountain of a fellow, who quietly made his way to the Mantachie team celebrating at half court.

Miller respectfully shook the hand of each player and coach on the victorious Mustang squad. Then  he did something I will never forget. Big Mike walked over to the bench and fist-bumped the 13 year old cancer-worn bookkeeper. That young Mustang was none other than myself.

He was a division one recruited athlete with the whole world to gain, and he took the time to congratulate a kid who had literally nothing to do with the game. That one small act sticks out in my mind as a living example of the genuinely amazing human being that “Big Mike” was.

Every time after that night at the county tournament when I would see Mike, he was still the same o’l dude, even years later following his stints as a collegiate athlete. Perhaps the only thing bigger than his ever-present smile was his heart; for his family, his friends, and his community.

The Tale of Big Mike saw the end of its earthly chapter this past week, and though all of us who had the absolute privilege of crossing paths with him selfishly ache knowing he is no longer with us, we all should find comfort in knowing that we will see him again.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the Miller family, especially Vijay and Tray as they begin their own collegiate athletic careers. With the edition of Big Mike’s big smile in the sky, the sun will now shine a little brighter, and will touch our face’s just a little warmer.

Until the next fist-bump, fly high and rest easy Big Mike.

 

Twitter: @Sam_Farris21

About Scotty Nichols

Graduate of THE University of Mississippi. #HottyToddy. I like sports. And BBQ.

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