Every game like Halloween for Chattanooga Mocs linebacker Gunner Miller

Every game like Halloween for Chattanooga Mocs linebacker Gunner Miller

October 31st, 2012 by John Frierson in Sports - College

Gunner Miller of UTC wears black face paint during against Georgia Southern.

Photo by Jake Daniels/Times Free Press.

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga defensive coordinator Adam Fuller made an off-hand comment Monday that rang true. Standing in head coach Russ Huesman's office, he said that when the subject is Gunner Miller, nobody ever talks about football.

It echoed a conversation that Miller, the junior linebacker from East Ridge, had with a reporter a few weeks before. Miller had spent most of his time on the dais during a Tuesday news conference answering questions about his hair -- he'd recently had some teammates cut off his long locks -- or game-day face paint.

"It'd be a little weird talking about hair and makeup if you just said 'hair and makeup' and nobody knew what we were actually talking about," he said.

There's no question that Miller can play. He's fourth on the team with 43 tackles and leads the Mocs (4-4, 3-2 Southern Conference) with two interceptions. A starter since midway through his redshirt freshman season, Miller has 129 career stops.

Miller could top his previous season high of 51 tackles with a good performance Saturday at Western Carolina (1-8, 0-7).

"He's a good player -- no question," said Huesman, who added that Miller is moving better this season.

Miller wasn't asked many questions about football during a Monday interview, but that's because today is Halloween and who better to talk about a day of fun and dress-up than the guy who paints part of his face black before every game.

"I guess it obviously stands out and it comes with the hair and the makeup," he said of the many questions about his look. "It wasn't what I was doing that for, obviously, but it's cool. I come to the games and I see some of the kids that are painted up like me -- that's pretty cool."

A diehard fan of the Ultimate Warrior, a star professional wrestler in the 1980s and '90s, Miller began painting his face at East Ridge High School. He didn't do it as a redshirt freshman at UTC -- "I don't know if I was embarrassed or shy," he said -- but he resumed the ritual in the Mocs' 2011 opener at Nebraska.

Miller said he liked getting dressed up for Halloween as a child -- he painted his face when dressed as a clown -- though the first costume he can remember wearing wasn't one he selected.

"I want to say I was a pumpkin, which I didn't have a say in," he said.

He recalled a Power Ranger outfit and had a few years when he chose much more scary looks.

"I remember getting a really cool Freddy Krueger ('Nightmare on Elm Street') costume," he said. "I still have that, but I can't wear it."

That it no longer fits is hardly surprising since nobody on the team enjoys time in the weight room more than Miller. Well, defensive end Davis Tull might.

Here's a fun fact about Miller and Tull: Two of UTC's best defenders are taking a ballet class this semester. Snicker if you want, but Huesman said his high school team did it and Herschel Walker famously performed with the Fort Worth Ballet while playing for the Dallas Cowboys.

"It really does help with your flexibility," Miller said. "Everything you do is involved in your balance and your flexibility."

Football, face paint and ballet shoes -- there are many sides to the man.

Contact John Frierson at jfrierson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mocsbeatCTFP.