Tyrone Miller Jr. maintains that it was an easy decision, and one he certainly doesn’t regret.
During the summer before his senior year of high school, Miller had to choose between football and dancing. For the previous five years, he had managed to balance both. However, the stress it put on his body made him unable to perform some of the simplest dance moves and it took away from his ability to make every play on the gridiron.
So, as a result, Miller chose to focus solely on football.
"I had to choose which one would be the better career,” Miller said. “My mom always told me, ‘Get your education first, then you can dance after that.'"
The decision turned out to be a good one for the Kansas junior.
Miller, who converted to safety from cornerback last year, has made a huge impression on the coaching staff this spring. He has adjusted to his new role and his understanding of the defense has improved with it. Miller is a candidate to replace former Jayhawks safety, Fish Smithson, the team’s leading tackler over the last two years.
“Tyrone has had a really good spring, probably one of the bigger surprises that we have had in terms of his improvement from a year ago,” defensive coordinator Clint Bowen said. “He's doing a lot of things better that you have to do on the inside, that you don't have to do on the corner.”
Even though it worked out well for Miller, it’s not as if the decision was a no-brainer.
Miller has been dancing his whole life. His mother, Rose Joiner, used to make him dance at family functions. The two would team up and perform dance routines in front of their whole family. He later perfected his own style by watching videos online and taking some of the best moves from several famous dancers.
“She said it would be great to learn how to do the salsa and things like that for my wife,” Miller said. “It just kept carrying when I was little, and I just got more and more rhythm as it went on. I became a good dancer.”
He became so good that in the seventh grade, he and his cousin started making videos and sharing them through social media. Eventually the videos became popular enough to garner the attention of neighborhood household names, Ayleo and Mateo Bowles, who are known as Ayo and Teo today.
Ayo and Teo liked what they saw and asked them if they wanted to join their own dance group. Shortly after that they had fromed a six-person dance group, called Spectro Inc., and began performing in shows all over Michigan, including Ann Arbor and Detroit. They even went to Los Angeles once.
With it, Miller had become a celebrity practically overnight. Every YouTube video they released would get at least 12,000 views. He would be stopped by complete strangers, who wanted to take a picture with Miller or get his autograph.
“It was a great experience,” Miller said. “Going to the mall, and I was just a young kid, people would know you by your face. It was just crazy.”
But all the fame that dance brought him couldn’t overmatch his passion for football.
As he started to get serious about playing football at the next level — he originally committed to Central Michigan — Miller knew it was time to set aside something he had been doing his whole life. So he left the group just before his final year at Saline High School.
“Even though I like dancing, that's just a side thing,” Miller said. “I love football, that's where my passion is all the time. All my friends were there to support me."
During his dance-less senior campaign, Miller notched 35 tackles and six pass breakups and attracted other college offers, including from Wyoming and Kansas. After Central Michigan coach Dan Enos left to become offensive coordinator at Arkansas, Miller began to explore his options before committing to KU.
He started in eight games as a freshman at cornerback and then was buried in the depth chart when he moved to safety as a sophomore. Now with a year of experience at the new position, he’s expected to contribute more thoroughly on the defensive unit.
Meanwhile, his dance group has disbanded and many members, like Miller, have gone their separate ways. The only ones left are the brothers, Ayo and Teo, who have started working with Usher. They actually danced with Usher at the BET Awards this past fall, and Miller was quick to congratulate them on their success when he saw them back home.
“They have a great career and they are making songs,” Miller said. “They are a really big trend."
Though the only times Miller dances now are on the practice field or in the locker room to hype up his defensive backs, he’s trending upward himself — especially this spring.