Cody Miller reaches to the back of his head and runs his fingers through his hair. It’s the quintessential West Coast haircut, mirroring a look of half-surfer, half-skateboarder. It flips and curls and rests just at his shoulders.
He tucks it behind his ears, and then returns his hands back to his lap. He sighs.
“Yeah, I have to cut it. And it stings a little,” he said, half joking.
The decision to cut it — his “flow” is what it’s more commonly referred to these days — might feel like a blow, but the reason for doing so is surely one to celebrate.
Miller, a senior at Verrado High School, committed to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMAA) in April, pledging to further his academic and football career at the esteemed program in New York.
The school, one of just five service academies in the United States, grooms students to become military officers for the U.S. Merchant Marine, or other branches of the military.
“It’s a four-year program,” said Miller, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound wide receiver. “But what’s different about it is I spend a year at sea.”
Per the school’s official website: “This challenging coursework is augmented by the Academy’s Sea Year experience, which affords midshipmen the opportunity to acquire hands-on, real-world experiences aboard working commercial vessels sailing to ports around the world.”
In order to be admitted to the program, students must receive a Congressional nomination from a sitting member of Congress, among other qualifications, such as high test scores and strong grade-point averages.
While it is a four-year program, credits are squeezed to fit into three school years. The remainder of the fourth year will consist of the student being shipped off to spend the year at sea, gaining paid, on-the-job experience.
“My sophomore year, I go out to sea one of my semesters for 120 days. My junior year, I do 240 days at sea,” he said.
Since football is played in the fall, Miller will spend every football season stationed in New York. He’ll be sent to sea in the off-season months.
The specifics of his assignment, such as where he’ll be shipped to, remain unclear. It all depends on what is available and needed, and when.
Miller was initially interested in the Naval Academy. He learned of the USMMA through a friend’s uncle, who graduated from the Naval Academy himself. The acquaintance suggested Miller redirect his focuses to the USMAA.
“He said it was one of the better places to be,” Miller recalled. “He said it was the spot. We did some research on it, and I applied there.”
Shortly after, Miller flew to the school in Kings Point, New York. He understood if he were to attend USMMA, a football scholarship would follow. He also seriously considered attending Arizona State University, but understood studying in Tempe would prematurely end his football career.
When Miller visited campus, he became enamored with New York and the East Coast, something that was previously unfamiliar to the Arizona native.
He liked the coaching staff and the players, too. He spent his official visit shadowing a freshman football player, and deemed this was where he’d spend the next four years of his life.
The following week, he signed his letter of intent to attend USMMA. He was joined by family, friends and classmates in the Verrado High School auditorium, as he put pen to paper.
Miller engineered a prolific football career at Verrado over a stretch of three varsity seasons. He hauled in 65 receptions for 766 yards and seven touchdowns over 26 games played. He led the team his senior season in receptions (43), yards (621), touchdowns (5) and yards per game (62.1).
Even before colleges began pleading for Miller’s football services, he felt he would be able to play at the next level. The USMMA Marines are in Division III as a member of the Liberty League.
He’d been playing football for years now, and his big, physical frame made him every quarterback’s best friend. The last several years, he started to travel to out-of-state tournaments, showcasing his talent amongst some of the most highly-touted recruits the country has to offer.
“I could hang my own a bit with them,” he said.
Miller will join a Mariners team in the fall, which has gone a combined 14-6 in the previous two seasons. His freshman year, as he has been told by the coaching staff, may serve as a transition season to the college football scene.
But the Mariners are losing a senior wide receiver.
“The coaches told me if everything goes well and I come out and show out, I could possibly start my freshman year. They were saying it’s maybe the transition year, get a little playing time here and there, and most likely I’ll be a three-year starter,” he said.
After his four years are up in New York, Miller will face his “service obligation,” according to usmma.edu.
Miller has elected to serve for eight years “as an officer in any reserve unit of the armed forces.” The other option is to serve five years active duty in any branch of the military. Miller has expressed his interest in traveling the world after school, hence his decision to choose the former.
Miller, who will study engineering in college, plans to walk away from the service at roughly 30 years old, the world at his fingertips. He wants to pursue private contracting after his service is up.
He’ll leave for the school’s introductory boot camp in early July, already eager to get acclimated with this new home.
Upon arrival, with a new freshly-shaved, clean-cut hairstyle to boot, Miller will spend his weekdays immersed in textbooks and football workouts. His weekends will be spent exploring the city.
Leaving USMMA with little student loan debt —as his tuition is paid for — and a stable job to match are several reasons as to why Miller is thrilled with his college selection.
“I was just leaning toward not playing football for a little bit. But, I was missing it. Then, this opportunity came about and it was just perfect,” he said.