Greg Miller wasn't surprised. He can't even remember if he cheered in the biggest moment of Missouri football's win over Arkansas.
Mekhi Miller, his true-freshman son that's plays receiver for MU, caught a 22-yard pass on third and four as the clock ticked under two minutes in a 29-27 win that clinched a bowl berth for the Tigers.
Greg said he wasn't surprised because Mekhi had been making that same play for years, a slant with a release to the inside. He had been biding his time for the freshman to get his chance to make the same play in a Missouri uniform.
"I call that the art of misdirection, that's something we always work on in the off-season," Greg said of Mekhi's route on the play. "I expect him to make plays like that. I expect him to be ready when his number's called, not just on a third down conversion, but on every play."
That expectation is what holds Mekhi to a high standard. It's why the freshman, soon-to-be sophomore, is in line to grow into a bigger role in a receiver room that could see major changes this offseason.
The three-star prospect and Topeka native came to Missouri over offers from Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Cal-Berkley, Tennessee and Utah. He also came to MU with a plan.
Greg said he and Mekhi had been preparing for his high school football career when he was in the fourth grade when Mekhi told Greg he wanted to play in the NFL. As soon as Mekhi got to high school, that assignment changed.
"We started preparing for college when he was 14 and I told him I'm no longer going to give you a training schedule," Greg said. "You tell me how often you want to train, you tell me how long you want to train and we can talk about what we're going to do when we do train. And he set out his schedule. He set out what he wanted to do, he set out how he wanted to work, and that's what we did."
That work paid off at a moment when MU needed it the most.
There were two major factors that played into that key third and four play late in the fourth quarter of Missouri's win over Arkansas on Black Friday.
The first was the situation. A first down with about two minutes remaining would allow MU to leave the Hogs with little time left to get in position for any kind of non-miracle score. It called for an aggressive play call.
The second was the personnel. It was third down, or, as MU head coach Eli Drinkwitz affectionately called it, "third and Banister." Sixth-year receiver Barrett Banister became a part of Missouri football lore with his penchant for converting third downs. He was injured and did not play.
Drinkwitz still looked that way on third and four. Instead of Banister, quarterback Brady Cook found the polar opposite experience-wise. Cook found Miller, who caught a slant pattern for 22 yards and a first down.
All week, Drinkwitz said MU's coaches were saying Mekhi would be the best option on that play. He proved them right.
"With Barrett out, we were like, who's going to be the guy?" Drinkwitz said. "He was one-on-one vs. No. 17. That's a good match-up."
It was the moment his season had led up to, all 11 games and three quarters. Mekhi earned his moment by just using the action he got in practice to earn looks in games.
Mekhi also weathered personal loss during the regular season. His great-grandmother passed away the same day MU played Kentucky. Mekhi had a 25-yard reception against the Wildcats.
"Taking advantage of every opportunity I get in practice," Miller told reporters in a press conference during MU's bye week. "The more reps equals the better I'll be at it."
Those reps weren't just at receiver. Mekhi showed his willingness to do whatever it takes to see the field against Arkansas on special teams. He blocked a punt in the fourth quarter, which kept the Razorbacks from flipping the field in a one-score game.
That willingness to play on special teams was significant, too. Special teams was a phase of football that Mekhi hadn't played with much in his high school career. Using special teams as a way to earn playing time resulted in one of the bigger plays of the game.
"I was definitely pleased and amazed by that effort," Greg said.
That effort is what sets up Mekhi for an important spring. Dominic Lovett will enter the transfer portal. Banister will graduate. Fellow experienced receiver Tauskie Dove's post-season plans are still unclear.
That leaves the floor open for Mekhi. Not only can he earn a starting spot, but he can be one of the focal points of a passing game that's in need of a weapon with Lovett's presumed departure.
That opening created by Lovett's entrance into the transfer portal is a part of the ever-changing nature of college football. That hasn't changed Mekhi's approach to his sophomore season, because that avenue has already been planned out.
Greg said Mekhi is already planning on focusing on improving his speed during the offseason. Mekhi wants to be faster and a more technical route runner.
"You just got to be comfortable with the speed of the game," Mekhi said. "You just got to have this toughness in order to play in this league."
Earning that speed, technique and toughness will not come easily. That won't deter Mekhi's commitment to improve his game, especially for a player that Greg said actively seeks out reasons to put a chip on his shoulder. The biggest chip he had his freshman year was to prove he belonged.
When Mekhi transferred from Topeka High School to Blue Valley North, Greg said MU's coaching staff stood by him. The staff, specifically then-wide receivers coach and now-quarterbacks coach Bush Hamdan, treated Mekhi like a family. They gave Mekhi an opportunity to prove he can be the top receiver prospect he knows he is.
His commitment to Missouri won't waver because the Tigers put their trust in Mekhi, and he wants to return that favor.
"He wanted to prove to the coaching staff that he belongs in the SEC," Greg said. "That's what he wanted to do. He set out to prove to everyone that he belongs."
With Missouri's future at receiver unknown, aside from fellow freshman Luther Burden's place in the offense, Mekhi will have a chance to prove he deserves a starting receiver spot in the SEC.
He's bided his time, an entire season's worth of it. Greg said Mekhi was waiting for a sign that his mindset and focus on being a contributor to MU's offense was correctly founded.
One reception against Arkansas was that sign for Mekhi.
"I know him and everything that he's capable of," Greg said. "I was just waiting for the coaches to fully place their respect and trust in him to allow him to do it."
This article originally appeared on Columbia Daily Tribune: Why Mekhi Miller will be a major part of Mizzou football's receiver room