As a freshman at Texas A&M, Brandon Miller has made up for a lot of lost time. With a season-ending injury in the first meet of his junior year of high school at John Burroughs School and Covid-19 knocking out all but one race during his senior year, Miller, the 13 and 14-year-old age group World Record holder and Missouri High School record holder in the 800-meters, has shined during his first year of college. Miller highlighted his freshman campaign with a runner-up finish in the 800-meters at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships. Miller also broke the event record by a Missourian. Miller’s 1:44.97 breaks Georgia native, Mizzou 2x NCAA champion, 19-yrAmerican Collegiate Indoor 800-meter record holder, Olympian, and 20-year Missouri resident Derrick Peterson’s best of 1:45.08.
Coming into the NCAA meet, Miller had already completed two of the eight steps of Peterson’s remarkable and rare achievement of winning the same event at each of his eight attempts at the indoor and outdoor conference meets over a college career. Peterson won all eight Big 12 800-meter races he competed in at Mizzou.
Although the final result was a satisfactory ending, it didn’t come without some uncertainty and anxiety. In section #2 of three of the semifinals on Wednesday, USC’s Isaiah Jewett led early on with Miller just off his shoulder as they went thru 400-meters in 53.01 and 53.22-seconds. Jewett’s lead held thru 500-meters when Miller then pushed ahead, leading down the backstretch around turns three and four. However, as they hit the homestretch, Lipscomb’s Shane Streich and Iowa State’s Festus Lagat moved up on Miller, one on each side.
Miller couldn’t hold them off as the pair surged. It was close at the tape with Streich winning in 1:47.28, Lagat in second in 1:47.31. Jewett, who was bested by Miller two weeks before at the NCAA West Preliminary Championships at Miller’s home track at Texas A&M with a finish line dive for the win in a new personal best of 1:45.57 to 1:46.60, had now come back on Miller, edging him for third, 1:47.43 to 1:47.50.
The pair had to the play the waiting game as they didn’t get the automatic berths to the finals the top-two finishes earned. The pair had to watch and hope the third of three semifinal sections wasn’t faster than their times. Miller was especially in a predicament and on the outside looking in as section #1 third-placer Crayton Carrozza of Texas clocked a 1:47.46, putting him behind Jewett, but ahead of Miller for one of the three non-automatic qualifier spots to advance to Friday’s final. So Jewett, Carrozza, and Miller sat 1-2-3 in the fastest non-automatic qualifying spots of the three available. After a few anxious minutes, Miller’s fears were eased as section 3 winner finished in 1:47.80 and second, third, and fourth-place finishers were 1:47.91, 1:48.16, and 1:48.45. Jewett, Cardozza, and Miller’s times placed them 5th, 6th and 7th overall to earn them the three final qualifying spots.
It was a relief for Miller who after winning the SEC Indoor 800-meters, just missed qualifying for the NCAA Indoor Championships by one spot and a few hundredths of a second with indoor qualification based on the season’s performance list and nothing else, unlike outdoors where there are East and West Preliminary rounds. Miller was an alternate on the Aggies 4×400 indoors, so had already the experience of being at an NCAA Meet under his belt.
Two days later, front runners Miller and Jewett took it out quick in the final. Miller started in lane one and Jewett in lane two. Miller took off at the gun, with a half-stride lead on the Jewett as the athletes moved back towards lane one and two on the backstretch after the one-turn stagger. No one else went with Miller and Jewett. Miller led at 400-meters at 50.94-seconds with Jewett at 50.97 as he was in the process of passing Miller. They had an almost 10-meter lead on the field as the closest of their seven competitors was almost a full second back at 51.75 for the first lap. Jewett passed Miller on the outside of lane one and had a full stride on Miller as they hit the back stretch, the lead on third-place now 15-meters.
As they neared turn four, Jewett was grimacing as Miller began to move from directly behind him to his shoulder and the outside of lane one with his sights set on passing him and earning a victory, what he’s done for most of the races he’s run in his lifetime. Miller pulled out to the edge of lane one and two and as close as a foot or two to Jewett to his left. Jewett held strong though even as his form began to break down. Miller didn’t have another gear to shift to and the USC senior Jewett captured the Trojans first NCAA title in the event in the 8th-fastest time ever for an athlete in collegiate competition, 1:44.68.
Miller meanwhile took 2nd competing in his first NCAA Meet in a new personal record of 1:44.97, 6/10ths of a second faster than his 1:45.57 West Prelims winning time and better than his SEC Outdoor title time of 1:45.95. Miller’s clocking also puts him #20 on the collegiate outdoor all-time performance list. It also moved Miller to third on the Texas A&M list behind teammate Devin Dixon’s 1:44.76 2019 clocking and World Champion Donavan Brazier’s 2016 time of 1:43.55 as a freshman, which was a collegiate record that stood for two years. The time also surpassed the Olympic standard of 1:45.20.
It was Miller’s teammate and training partner, Devin Dixon who broke Derrick Peterson’s American Collegiate Record Indoors with a 1:45.27 in January of 2019. The two individuals ahead of Dixon on the Collegiate Indoor All-Time 800-meter list regardless of nationality, Paul Ereng of Virginia and Michael Saruni of UTEP. Ereng’s 1:44.84 came in 1989 for head coach Fred Binggeli, the Fulton, Missouri native, former SEMO head coach, and Mizzou assistant coach, and longtime MSHSAA administrator. That performance came less than a year after he captured the 1988 Olympic gold medal in the event while a student-athlete at Virginia. Saruni’s 1:45.15 came in 2018. Saruni’s coach at UTEP, Paul Ereng.
The finish also gave Texas A&M eight team points and helped them to a 6th-place tie in the team standing with Texas with 29 points. The performance capped a great season for Miller, though it’s not quite done. Miller will lace it up again at Hayward Field in Eugene for the US Olympic Trials, that begin Friday, June 18, 2021 and run thru Sunday, June 27. Miller’s new PR puts him as the fifth seed in the 800 at the Trials, behind Jewett, and the favorites , three professionals who are also World Championship or Olympic Medalists or 4th-place World Champs finishers: Donavan Brazier, Bryce Hoppel and Clayton Murphy.