From assistant to head coach: James Miller brings his experience to Grand Valley

Grand Valley High School football coach James Miller speaks with another coach during practice.
Ray K. Erku/Glenwood Springs Post Independent

James Miller could wear the standard uniform of the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office when classes are in progress. But, when school ends, the outfit changes and he speaks X and O with his offense and defense.

Miller, 39, is the student resource officer for Garfield School District 16. In addition to patrolling the halls, he has spent the past five years as Grand Valley High School’s assistant football coach.

This season, he started wearing a whole new hat: that of head football coach of the Cardinals.

On Tuesday afternoon, watching footage of their first season – a 53-8 win over Ellicott – he outlined exactly how he wanted his team to play. Such a plan of attack stems from his vast background in law enforcement and martial arts, Miller said.

“The big thing that we always talk about,” he said, “you will fight like you train.”

The Cardinals are coming off a respectable record of 5-4 overall, 3-3 in the 2021-22 league. Under former head coach Scott Parker, Grand Valley also finished fourth overall at 1A Western Slope.

But, the Cardinals were then injury-prone, finishing the season with about 21 players. This, in addition to having now been elevated to League 2A 6, presents a whole new bag of opportunities for Miller.

It has decided to massively recruit eighth-graders for this year’s incoming freshmen, he said. The current list now has 40 children.

“I have a lot of seniors in skill positions, which is great,” he said. “I have a much younger team as far as my line goes.”

Grand Valley’s Toby LeBorgne Stadium was packed with Cardinals players performing drills in the beating sun Tuesday afternoon. On the sidelines, Cardinals senior quarterback and starter Steven Hicks said the seniors have joined Miller in visiting and recruiting from the college at least three times already.

“We went there and we were like, ‘Hey, play football for us’, you know? he said. “We have a lot of freshmen this year.”

The nearby town of De Beque also provided at least six athletes, including senior Nick Ramthum and juniors Anthony Middleton and Scottie Vines. Vines, a go-to wide receiver, won a state high jump championship last year.

After the Colorado High School Activities Association restructured the league this year, Grand Valley joined Rifle, Aspen, Coal Ridge, Moffat County and Basalt in Division 2A League 6.

Grand Valley previously played in Division 1A Western Slope, which included smaller schools like Meeker and Roaring Fork.

“Things have changed since my freshman year when I came here,” Hicks said. “We were known to lose, then Coach Parker came along two years ago and turned it around.

“We’ve had a winning record the last two years, and I think Miller is going to do a good job of picking up the slack.”

Like most divisions of Colorado high school football, 2A League 6 teams are stacked. The rifle, of course, won the 2020-21 3A state title. Moffat County finished 8-2, 4-1 overall in League 2A West last season. Basalt also produced a winning record last season.

“We’re not going to allow anyone to intimidate us,” Miller said. “We won’t take anyone lightly either.”

Breaking down the Xs and O’s, he said the Cardinals were ironing out a newly installed defense while the important new generation of young underclassmen still tried to acclimate themselves to high school league play.

He first played football and graduated from Rifle High School in the early 2000s. He went on to work regular street patrol for the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office for 18 years before becoming a resource officer students of Garfield 16.

Although his head coach is now adding to his repertoire of different hats, Miller is married to a woman who comes from a family of athletes and coaches and certainly understands his dedication to symbolic play from much more than just victoire.

It’s about finding the value of hard work, Miller said.

“I’ve always loved football,” he said. “I always thought he taught a lot of life lessons that you can’t really learn anywhere else.”

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