Junior QB leads Pirates to playoffs

  • Cam Miller on the practice field Monday night as the Pirates prepare for their playoff showdown with county rival West Nassau next Friday night. BETH JONES/NEWS-LEADER
    Cam Miller on the practice field Monday night as the Pirates prepare for their playoff showdown with county rival West Nassau next Friday night. BETH JONES/NEWS-LEADER

The Pirates are in the playoffs, and it was one player’s mission to get them there.

“Our school hasn’t been to the playoffs in years, and I’m just excited to go out there with my family and ball up,” said Cam Miller, the junior quarterback on the Fernandina Beach High School football team.

He wasn’t always the quarterback. Miller stepped in last season when Jackson Mock was injured.

“The quarterback position was new to me, but I knew I had to help my team win, so I was doing whatever I had to do,” Miller said.

And the 6-foot-1, 180-pound signal caller has been doing just that ever since.

“I’ve got to watch him for three years now, and the excitement he brings and some of the things he does, it speaks for itself,” said Jude Swearingen, head football coach at FBHS. “If I play him at quarterback, he’s one of the better quarterbacks on the field. If I play him at receiver, he’s one of the better receivers on the field. When he walks on the field, he’s a game-changer.”

The Pirates improved on their 5-5 record last season, finishing at 6-3 for the 2020 regular season. It’s the program’s best record since 2008.

FBHS will host its first home playoff game Nov. 13. It’s a rematch with West Nassau High School. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.

The Pirates beat the West Nassau Warriors 56-50 in overtime on Oct. 16.

“It’s going to be a tough game,” Miller said. “It was a tight game the first time, and I just know it’s going to be a good game. We’re just going to go at it.”

Miller has 845 passing yards and 910 rushing yards so far, and he’s scored 23 touchdowns. He’s also been on the receiving end, reeling in two catches for 18 yards. Defensively, Miller has recorded five solo tackles and three assists, and he’s intercepted two passes.

He’s also had a presence on special teams, returning two kickoffs for 51 yards and five punts for 158.

His performances have piqued the interest of several college coaches, receiving his sixth offer this week. Penn State joins UCF, Rutgers, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Duke.

“I’m just taking my time, keeping my options open,” Miller said.

The standout basketball player is taking it one sport at a time.

“I’m just focused on football now,” said Miller, who boasts a 4.0 weighted grade point average.

“He works hard in the classroom, on the field and in the weight room,” Swearingen said. “He’s learning to be a leader, and he’s very competitive.”

“I do challenge myself,” Miller said.

Beating West Nassau, a feat not accomplished by an FBHS team in more than a decade, was the highlight of the season so far for Miller.

“Just going out there, executing and beating them on the home stage, it was just big,” he said.

One week later, the Pirates lost to county foe Hilliard.

“We came out flat, and we didn’t execute, and they jumped on us,” Miller said. “We could never get ahead. It was a tough game. No excuses. We lost. They were the better team that night, and it is what it is.”

Swearingen is pleased with the success his team has had on the gridiron this season.

“As a coach, you’re always looking to be better, get better,” he said. “We lost to Yulee and Hilliard, and we had a rough game over there on Main Street against Jackson, dealing with some referees.

“I don’t want to make any excuses. We had three winnable games. We just didn’t get it done.”

But they did against the Warriors.

“It’s been a while,” Swearingen said. “I’m really proud of the guys for competing and showing heart in that game. Following that up with HIlliard the week after was rough and tough.

“I don’t know if it was the letdown of playing that really emotional game and then trying to come back down and play another pretty emotional game against (John) Pate, an ex-coach that had been here. He knows the guys, and he did a good job. We didn’t get it done.”

The Pirates lost their season opener to Yulee (41-34) on Sept. 4 and won the next three, beating Interlachen, Wolfson and Stanton in shutouts. Jackson handed the Pirates their second loss of the season on Oct. 2.

FBHS beat Paxon (another shutout) and West Nassau before the loss to Hilliard. The Pirates capped the regular season with a win over North Florida Educational Institute.

Swearingen is looking forward to another matchup with West Nassau.

“We’re just going to fight and keep trying to get better and improve every day,” he said.

The Pirates have a bye week, while the Warriors cap the regular season tonight at Ridgeview.

“The big thing for us is getting our minds wrapped around what the challenge is in front of us, getting ourselves ready, making sure we know that game could have gone either way at the end,” Swearingen said.

The Pirates’ defense is young, with just a pair of seniors in the backfield.

“Everyone else on the defensive side of the ball are juniors or below,” Swearingen said. “We have two or three freshmen starting on the defensive line, getting some significant playing time.

“We gave up a lot of rushing yards against (West Nassau) in the first game, and we’re going to try to find a way to combat some of them.The big thing is just having these guys ready for Friday night and coming out and competing and having the heart to finish no matter what happens.

“We’ve lost for so long. Now, it’s just teaching these kids, if you get down by a score or two scores, it’s not the end of the world. We’re a pretty good team, and if we just keep battling and fighting, we have opportunities to get ourselves back in the game even if we make a few mistakes. That’s something our kids are learning to handle.”

And, Swearingen couldn’t be prouder of his quarterback.

“He’s a kid who could have transferred and gone anywhere he wanted to go, and lots of people want him,” Swearingen said. “But, he decided that he wanted to do something where little has been done and be the guy who changed our program and took us to the next level. It’s going to be fun to watch. I’m just really proud of him. He’s a hard-nosed, a grinder. 

“That’s what we look for as coaches. Jimmies and Joes make you a better coach than Xs and Os. I’m hoping to build myself as a better coach, but when you have guys like Cam Miller, they make it a lot easier.”