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STACKHOUSE STRONG: Former Teammates, Karns City Community Pack Gymnasium as Brad Miller, Who Is Battling ALS, Has Football Jersey Retired

KARNS CITY, Pa. (EYT/D9) — As fans who packed the Karns City High School gymnasium alternated between laughter and blinking away tears, T.J. McFarland and Lon Hazlet told stories about Brad “Stackhouse” Miller.

At Karns City High School in the mid-to-late 90s, Miller was a large bear of a young man — 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds. He was strong. “He could squat something like half and ton,” McFarland joked. He was a leader.

And a very good football player for some very good Gremlin football teams.

Now, he’s in his biggest battle, fighting ALS — more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The progressive neurodegenerative disease has robbed Miller of his movement, but certainly not support from his friends, family and community.

In a ceremony on Friday night before the Karns City varsity basketball game against Cranberry, Miller’s No. 55 football jersey was retired.

He is the first player in Karns City’s 54-year history to have that honor.

“Brad Miller is a guy who needs to be celebrated,” said Hazlet, who was the head football coach for the Gremlins when Miller played. “He’s the best of the best. I’m a lucky, lucky man to have been able to coach Brad Miller. Karns City High School started in 1969. There have been a ton of great players here … but in 54 years, 55 is the first guy to ever have his jersey retired.”

Miller was more than just a standout on the football field at Karns City, although he certainly piled up the accolades as a player. He was a first team all-conference linebacker and first team all-District 9 offensive lineman after his senior year in 1997.

The Gremlins went undefeated during the regular season that year and won the D9 championship.

Miller always planned on returning to Karns City to teach and coach after his days on the football field at Waynesburg University were over. That time was shortened by injuries and even before he graduated, he was a volunteer assistant coach for football and track and field at his alma mater.

He was hired as an elementary teacher in the school district in 2005.

He bled purple and gold.

In 2015, Miller received a sobering diagnosis. He was stricken with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — ALS.

There is no cure.

His muscles would weaken, then not work at all.

The disease has progressed to the point where Miller was unable to attend the ceremony on Friday night. He is unable to move his body from the neck down.

But he watched on the school’s livestream. His friend and former teammate, Jake Dailey, read a statement from Miller.

“I would like to thank everyone who came out to show support, as well as those watching on the livestream who were not able to attend,” Miller wrote. “Due to the progression of my ALS, I’m not able to attend the ceremony, but there’s no other place I’d rather be than in the gym to be there and see everyone.

“Having my jersey retired was something that was never a personal goal of mine to achieve, since I have always been a team first and foremost person by playing my part as hard and as well as I could with everything I had. This is an unbelievable honor and I’m humbled and grateful. …

“When I decided that I wanted to coach and to teach, there was only one place where I wanted to do it and I was blessed to be able to do it in my hometown school district at Karns City for around 20 years.”

McFarland first met Miller in the eighth grade when Karns City and East Brady merged. He said he, as well as students from both schools, were a bit apprehensive about the meshing of the two student bodies — Karns City and East Brady were fierce rivals.

But McFarland from Karns City and Miller from East Brady hit it off immediately.

“He had a full goatee in the eighth grade,” McFarland said, met with laughter. “Sure enough that kid would end up being my life-long friend.”

As the years passed, the two shared a bond, both on the football field and off of it.

“He was the most soft-spoken kid on the team, but the biggest example of how and what to do and how to hold yourself accountable,” McFarland said.

When it came time to vote of a team captain, Miller swept the ballots.

All 42 players on the team voted for Miller.

Hazlet famously would describe Miller as, “a bad, bad cat.”

“Brad was generational,” Hazlet said. “Every football team needs a tough guy. Brad is a kind, kind man, but Brad Miller was a hammer. He was as tough as they got. Brad could bring the boom, Brad was the thunder.”

Miller would often come to Hazlet’s home on Sundays to watch Karns City game film in the morning and they stay to watch NFL football in the afternoons.

He rarely spoke.

“Brad used to show up to my house at about 9:30 or 10 o’clock on Sunday mornings and he and I would watch film for a couple of hours. I’d point some things out to him and he’d point some things out to me, and then he would go sit at the end of my coach and my two boys, who were little at the time, he’d play with and throw around. I’d have to remind him every now and then that you bench 315 and they weight 34 pounds, so you have to be a little bit careful.

“My wife would make food and Brad would eat and we’d talk about the game plan for the week, and then he’d leave,” Hazlet added. “My wife would say to me, ‘Do you think he likes coming here?’ I’d say, ‘I think.’ She’d say, ‘He’s been here all day and he never said a word.’”

Miller preferred to allow his actions to do his talking for him.

People listened.

They still do now.

A big Penn State University football fan, Miller spearheaded a chant that Karns City players still do today.

“We are … KC.”

Dailey led the crowd, their eyes wet with forming tears, in a chant at the end of the ceremony.

Five times each — for No. 55. One side of the gym, then the other.

“We are …