INDIANAPOLIS — Braxton Miller signed jerseys, helmets, photos and scraps of paper.
Fans greeted him with comments such as: "Looking forward to next year, man!" and "Glad you're healthy. We respect you a lot at Nebraska" and "How's Urban (Meyer)? Is he intense?"
For one photo, Miller held up a baby. For another he formed an "O" with his arms for a four-person O-H-I-O.
"Say: 'Undefeated!'" Click.
"Say: 'Go Bucks!'" Click.
Miller peered into the camera phones — eyes open, mouth closed.
"I smiled for the first 50," he protested, chuckling. "My cheeks be hurting, man."
His father, Kevin, observed the scene Saturday at Big Ten Fan Fest, where Miller was lauded as the league's Offensive Player of the Year.
"He doesn't like a lot of attention," the father said.
Fair enough. But he does have reason to smile.
Miller is one of three finalists for the Chicago Tribune's Silver Football, awarded to the Big Ten's best player and voted on by the league's 12 coaches. (The other finalists are Nebraska's Taylor Martinez and Wisconsin's Montee Ball, and the winner will be revealed Friday.)
Miller is just a sophomore. And his coach, Meyer, said in a telephone interview, "I've never coached a guy going into his junior year with so much room for growth. He won Big Ten (Offensive) Player of the Year and we still have no idea — I don't think anybody does — how good this guy can be."
Nate Ketchum thinks he's pretty good already. He attended the Oct. 20 Purdue-Ohio State game and was so distraught to see Miller suffer a neck injury that he cried and insisted on leaving the game. Nate is 6.
Wearing Miller's No. 5 Ohio State jersey, the boy was asked why he's such a fan: "Because he's fast!"
Miller is fast. He's elusive. He's shifty. All adjectives to describe a running back.
But he's a quarterback who earned the Big Ten's Griese-Brees award despite completing a modest 58.3 percent of his passes.
"He can throw the ball," Meyer said. "He has very good mechanics, a very strong arm, a great release. He has all the tools. And he's a smart guy. We just have to break (some bad habits). For 18 years, he has been a better athlete than everyone else and gotten away with it.
"I remind him almost every day that my goal is to make him not an athlete who plays quarterback but a quarterback who can run."
Meyer is famously demanding with his quarterbacks and blunt when speaking about them.
After Miller completed just 7 of 19 passes in a 35-23 victory at Penn State on Oct. 27, Meyer said of Miller: "I'm very disappointed. He could be better than he is. Fundamentally, he gets so tied up in knots. … Pulling away from center was very sloppy, and he panicked at times."
Miller acknowledged that the criticism "sometimes bugs me" while offering this list of what he needs to improve: "Getting down when I'm running the ball, becoming a better scrambler, not getting too jittery in the pocket."
And here's a sign that he and Meyer are on the same page.
Asked to rate his fundamentals on a scale of 1-10, Meyer replied: "Right now a 7."
Miller gave the same number and was pleased that it matched Meyer's, saying: "Man, two more eyes."
Miller planned to ease into his Ohio State career, hoping for an apprentice year behind Terrelle Pryor in 2011. But after Pryor got suspended and Joe Bauserman was benched, the 18-year-old Miller was thrown into the fire — headfirst.
"I didn't even know what I was doing," Miller said. "I made some plays, listened to the coaches, did what I could."
On a windy day in Champaign, he completed 1 of 4 passes. And the Buckeyes still beat Illinois.
"This year, it's easy," Miller said of playing the most demanding position on the field. "It comes quick when you have experience."
Miller also has plenty of experience signing autographs, and he didn't balk when a woman in a Wisconsin shirt sidled next to him for a picture. He has even posed with fans wearing Michigan gear.
"I was in their shoes at one time," he said, "looking up to somebody who plays sports. I don't want to be disrespectful to anyone. You never know. It might be someone I meet later on in life."
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