Inside what Von Miller – 'probably the rarest person in the NFL' – brings to the Bills – Buffalo News

Inside Zieger Park, between the bounce houses and three softball fields, every chapter of Von Miller’s life orbits around him.
Someone in a DeSoto High School Eagles shirt runs past a group in Denver Broncos jerseys. There are Rams Super Bowl champion hats and Texas A&M gear. Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs jerseys are sprinkled in, a nod to what’s next. One man already had a Miller Bills jersey, shipped to him by his brother in Buffalo the very day they became available.
This living, breathing scrapbook was the fifth annual Von Miller Day in April in DeSoto, Texas, a month to the day after the premier pass rusher signed with the Buffalo Bills. He was back to celebrate in his hometown, to feel grounded after a whirlwind 10 months. To be back where it all started, back around those who have known him since youth football. 
“We poured a lot into him growing up,” said Chris Glover, DeSoto’s managing director of parks and recreation.
Miller, 33, agreed to a six-year, $120 million deal with the Bills in March.
When the Bills take the field Sunday to start training camp at St. John Fisher University, they believe Miller will be the missing piece to get them to the Super Bowl.
There’s some sense of serendipity: Miller spent months thinking he’d be drafted by the Bills in 2011. But instead, his path took him elsewhere, shaping him at each stop. Miles from Buffalo, he grew up, he grew attached. He was traded away, he broke down, he started over. Now, he’s starting over again, but this time, it is on his terms.
“You go 10, 11 years down the road,” Miller’s father, Von Sr., said, “and both parties get to make the choice that they want to experience each other.”
Because while Miller was elsewhere, winning and learning and evolving, the Bills were changing, too.
“You can see the moves that Buffalo has made to be who they are,” said Kayvon Webster, Miller’s teammate in Denver. “And Von Miller is probably the icing on the cake. We’re just waiting for the cake to be brought out.”
But the Bills are not getting the same Miller that captivated them years ago. They’re getting something more.
The Bills are getting a mosaic of all the pieces from along the way.
Von Miller starred at DeSoto High School before going to Texas A&M.
In the house he grew up in DeSoto, Miller and his younger brother, Vinsynzie “Vins,” often shared rooms. They didn’t need to; the Millers had a three-bedroom house in DeSoto, and each son had his own space. Vins had bunk beds, and Miller had a queen bed. Even a hallway away felt too far. Miller moved closer.
“They normally slept (in the same room),” their father said. “They’d kind of go back and forth, but they spent more time in the bunk-bed room, because they just had a little bit more space in there.”
Part of it was practical: Von would sometimes have asthma attacks in the middle of the night, and Vins, while younger, was always watching out. But some was just what their parents, Von Sr. and Gloria, taught them about building a tight-knit community.
Soon, the sleepovers spread to include more than just the siblings. The Millers invited others over so often, they coined a term for it: the neighborhood retreat. In the den or out back with the basketball hoop, extra kids were always over to their home in suburban Dallas.
“Family just doesn’t mean the people that live in your house,” Von Sr. said. “Sometimes, you’ve got to reach out. It’s always been to reach back and try to help somebody. If you’ve got a plus, you reach back and try to help somebody and share that plus with somebody else.”
That sentiment is on display at Von Miller Day. He pays for all the food trucks, with burgers, chicken, Slurpees and 600 pounds of crawfish for the 1,000 attendees.
The DeSoto community nurtured him from the start. These days, he has plenty of reasons to return to visit. His family is there, as is his chicken farm. But there’s also an unspoken promise for Miller to give back, one he’s more than happy to fulfill. 
His annual block party meets homecoming was first proclaimed to celebrate one of DeSoto’s most famous sons. It’s also a testament to how Miller connects all those around him to each other.
Von Miller Sr. and DeSoto Mayor Rachel Proctor at Von Miller Day in DeSoto, Texas, in April. 
“There are a lot of people in the community that maybe that you haven’t seen for a while,” Glover said. “They come out, and so now all of a sudden, you’re there for Von Miller Day, but it’s like a family reunion.”
Miller has people flowing around him all day, as he signs as many autographs as he can. But he’s easily approachable, back among his neighbors.
“Here in DeSoto, he’s just Von, a longtime friend or neighbor who you are very comfortable with and who also just happens to be a great football player,” said Mayor Rachel Proctor. “Von’s success has taken him far away from DeSoto, but he’s never really left.”
He made it a habit early on to stay connected to each of his stops. 
“It’s kind of natural,” Glover said. “We watched him grow up.”
When Miller left Texas, he still had some growing up to do. In Denver, which drafted him No. 2 overall, he worked through injuries and a suspension, won a Super Bowl and eventually endured a sudden trade. But before he went off to the Los Angeles Rams midseason last year, he entrenched himself in Colorado.
And early on, in 2012, he started his foundation. Through Von’s Vision, Miller provides low-income students with free eye exams and glasses. Earlier this month, he hosted his third annual “A Night to Take Flight” gala at Jet Linx Aviation in Centennial, Colo., just a few minutes from his old practice facility. The utilitarian hangar opens to the west and was softened with floral arrangements, Colorado-inspired table settings, and the hum of attendees.
Some wore bold-framed glasses, similar to Miller’s, others wore cowboy hats. He threw footballs to the crowd, who bid on auction items throughout the night. Item No. 303, a signed and framed photo of Miller towering over a sacked Tom Brady, started at $400. 
Von Miller’s charity event in the Denver area had a decidenly Broncos-colored them.
Bradley Chubb, Brandon McManus, Albert Okwuegbunam and McTelvin Agim all came through. As Miller reached out, his former teammates reached back.
“It just means so much. It means more than what it did when I was on the team,” Miller told The Buffalo News at the event. “Because when you’re on a team, you support your teammates, and you go. But for me not to be here, for me not to be wearing orange and blue, but our blood still is tied together, it’s pretty cool.”
Miller is balancing how to love a place that was a meaningful chapter, how to still have a positive impact there, and how to not feel stuck in the past. Ten years doesn’t evaporate overnight, but he also couldn’t let nostalgia ensnare him.
Colorado will remain a service area for his foundation, but the organization is already hosting Von’s Vision Days in Buffalo. The July event in Colorado raised more than $300,000, which will help equip more kids with the glasses they need.
Miller milled around throughout the night, toasting with different tables and getting to know attendees. The clouds turned orange and the sky a deep blue as the sunset seeped into the hangar, before fading behind the mountains.
If Miller sometimes seems to dwell on past stops, it hints at the sense of community he’s looking to form in Buffalo. To absorb a place fully while also embedding himself into it. 
“I tell him all the time that his biggest asset and his worst enemy is his heart,” Von Sr. said.
Sure, football is a business, but that was for other players. Players who didn’t win Super Bowl MVP with a team. Players who didn’t leave with the general manager’s 12-year-old son not speaking to his dad because of the trade. Players who didn’t break down in tears when being sent to an objectively better team. 
“I think he never thought of himself going outside of Denver,” Webster said. “But that’s the business of it. … And so, it just takes guys like (Miller) a little longer to realize that this is a business, even if he was there for a long time.
“And it takes a lot out of you when you are leaving a place that you really loved, and you helped build up, and you just got so many memories there.”
There were the big events. Miller was known for his Halloween parties and costumes, and Webster thinks his best look was dressing as Dr. Evil.
“He had a naked cat. That was funny,” Webster said. “He had a real naked cat.”
But more revealing were the quiet moments. The hangouts after games. Lounging to watch TV. Players such as Webster would come over for no reason but to be. There was a stretch when Webster had a house of his own, but would still spend days on end at Miller’s. The cornerback would pack extra clothes if he knew he was going by after practice, knowing Miller would always find reasons to tell him to stay. Even waiting until the next day felt too far. Though graduated past bunk beds, Miller wanted to keep his friends closer.
It wasn’t just teammates on defense who felt the gravitational pull to the house, though that was most natural. Players from offense and special teams piled into “Club 58,” a sprawling 17,148 square foot, nine-bedroom home where the team got closer. They could migrate from the movie theater to the game room to the wraparound bar. Some teams naturally separate out into position groups outside of practice, but Miller also ushered in wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders and kicker McManus. 
“He can connect with anyone,” Webster said. “Von is probably the rarest person in the NFL.”
The little moments add up. Sometimes, there’s a benefit on the field. Webster describes the deep motivation they felt to play for each other in Denver that Super Bowl season. But Miller’s approach isn’t transactional.
“I know my teammates’ children,” Miller said. “I know where they went to high school. I know where they grew up. I know their ups, their downs.
“I know what makes them go, I know what doesn’t make them go. It’s a genuine love and a genuine respect for my teammates to figure out: How can I help them?”
The learning process started months ago in Buffalo, and it takes him back to his Texas A&M days. Miller has the same gut feeling as when he showed up in College Station.
“I felt like I could blaze my own trail,” Miller said. “And I felt like we had something special in the small town in College Station. My teammates and all the people that I’ve played with at Texas A&M were like family. It was so tight knit because that’s all we had to do. And in my short time in Buffalo, that’s what I feel.”
Those who have known Miller since childhood say he’s still the same, albeit with better cars. But he’s experienced more change around him in 10 months than in any other stretch of his life. 
If the sudden moves unraveled him for a bit, he eventually centered himself by setting the next goal. Los Angeles refreshed and resurrected him, even in his short time there. It also opened his eyes to all he could still accomplish as he entered his first true free agency.
“I think he was thinking about how he can be even more legendary,” Webster said.
Miller has been open about the fact that he wants the league record for career sacks. He’s sitting at 115.5, the most among active players. To reach 201 would be to pass Bills legend Bruce Smith, who played for 19 seasons.
But first, Miller wants another ring, one that has eluded Buffalo for so long.
Miller could become the first player in NFL history to win three Super Bowls with three different teams while active for each game. And to bring one to the Bills – a franchise defined by how close it has come, followed by how painfully it spiraled – would add a layer to the legacy.
When general manager Brandon Beane finally was able to sign Miller, the benefits were two-fold. Miller can and craves to change a game himself. The Bills also expect him to quickly bring out the best of their young defensive ends, sustaining the team even after he’s done playing.
“He’s that type of guy, those igniters that raise everybody around them,” Rams coach Sean McVay said.
Buffalo Bills’ Von Miller, front, talks drills near Boogie Basham, from left, Greg Rousseau and A.J. Epenesa during the Von Miller Pass Rush Summit Saturday, June 4, 2022, in Henderson, Nev.
At Miller’s Pass Rush Summit in June, with 30 folding tables set up in front of him and his clips playing behind him, Miller spoke for 40 minutes. Dozens of the best edge rushers in the league clung to every word he said in a high school gym in Henderson, Nev.
Miller recalled one of his final workouts with the Rams.
In his brief stint in Los Angeles, Miller quickly formed deep bonds. One way was by voluntarily running extra sprints every week with teammates. The Wednesday before the Super Bowl was the biggest group they had. Ten seconds on, 20 seconds off. Ten times in a row. Everybody hated it. Nobody stopped. Miller reminded them why.
“The message was: ‘Everybody wants to go to heaven,’” Miller said, “’But nobody wants to die.’”
Ten seconds on, 20 seconds off. Four days away from the biggest 60 minutes of the year.
“Everybody wants this, everybody wants to go to the Super Bowl,” Miller continued, “But nobody wants to put in the work.”
In his pursuit of heaven, Miller often turns to hell.
In 2017, Miller began working with Frank Matrisciano, who some call “Hell’s Trainer.” Miller learned about him through Cyrus Gray, his teammate at DeSoto High and Texas A&M. One chapter of his life led him to someone who would help shape the next.
Miller didn’t work with Matrisciano this offseason – spending time with his son, Valor, amid the move was a factor – but ahead of Super Bowl LVI, he said Matrsiciano’s training has been critical in maintaining his level of play. 
Von Miller training in the altitude in the Marin Headlands along the California coast with trainer Frank Matrisciano. 
Matrisciano calls some of what he does chameleon training. You have to adapt to every environment. Altitude. Heat. Snow. Participants often run on sand around San Francisco, the ground beneath them shifting as they move. Matrisciano has worked with Special Operations, firefighters, boxers and NBA players. For decades, he said he’s found that seven out of every 10 who show up will leave. Some leave after about eight minutes. Miller has spent up to six months in a year training with Matrisciano.
“He’s putting in more time than anybody else,” Matrisciano said.
Typically, Matrisciano doesn’t tell people how many reps are left. You can extend past what the body believes when you don’t have an ending in sight. It can help with overtime, it can help with Year 12 and beyond. Miller first reached out because he wanted to be on the field for every snap possible. Now, he says he wants to play out his six-year contract with the Bills.
Two years ago, Matrisciano led a group up the Marin Headlands, rugged cliffs along the California coast. Matrisciano carried the 40-pound ball they would use for their workout toward the top. He calls it Heaven’s Trail. Players call it Purgatory Mile. The workout was grueling. Switchbacks conceal how much further there is to sprint. Stairways point straight to the sky. Miller jumped up, again and again.
The group finished, and Matrisciano asked who would carry the ball back down, noting the six could trade off. The walk up is one thing; people often forget how taxing the climb down is. Quivering legs and the laws of gravity make for a harrowing descent. Miller picked up the ball and started to walk, refusing to share the load.
“He could have handed it off to anybody, and he wouldn’t. He wouldn’t do it. He wouldn’t let go,” Matrisciano said. “This is where you lead by example. … That again showed me the mental part, but he pushed himself physically. And a lot of guys would have quit. A lot of guys would have quit.”
Miller kept walking, the switchbacks cycling his views through sea, sky and cliffs. He kept walking just to know he could, to add another layer to himself, to push himself toward more. Only when he reached the exact spot where Matrisciano started did he release the weight.
Miller often describes himself as a facilitator, a conduit. When he gives advice, he points to all the people who have poured into him. 
“It’s nothing coming from me,” Miller said. “It’s just everything that I’ve heard from great players and great coaches around me.”
He saw DeMarcus Ware do this move, so he tells Greg Rousseau. He learned this technique from Aaron Donald, so he shows Boogie Basham. While it is true that he’s passing all he can along, he sometimes makes it sound as if he is more removed than he is: Miller is preparing younger players for a game that he is actively evolving. He’s not waiting until he cements his legacy to mold others, no matter their team. He brings them along with him. 
Miller tells them how sometimes he uses a whole game to lull an opponent for one play. But more often than not, his goal is to get close as quickly as possible. He watches the play clock over opponents’ shoulders as he gets ready to launch. Miller wants to punch the ball out if he can, with pulverizing a quarterback the next best option. To do so, he must arrive at the right time.
Those are the moves and mentality that the Bills craved.
“We just felt like we needed this piece – it was one of the pieces that we needed, not the only piece – but this was an opportunity for us to get our hands on one in Von,” Beane said in March. “We were fortunate that the time was right for us and for him.”
Eleven years, two rings, 115.5 sacks and countless chapters later, Miller is arriving.
“They’re right on the edge,” Miller said, “And I just want to be that last drop to overflow these guys, man.”
He knows that being right on the edge isn’t far enough. Miller moves them closer, knowing they can be made of more. Knowing he is made of more.
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Von Miller Sr. and DeSoto Mayor Rachel Proctor at Von Miller Day in DeSoto, Texas, in April. 
Von Miller starred at DeSoto High School before going to Texas A&M.
Von Miller training in the altitude in the Marin Headlands along the California coast with trainer Frank Matrisciano. 
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