Athletics & Recreation

Lacrosse is part of first-year player’s Native American legacy

First-year student Zach Miller, who grew up on an Indian reservation in New York, is a starter on the men's lacrosse team. Photo: Clarkson Creative

First-year student Zach Miller, who grew up on an Indian reservation in New York, is a starter on the men’s lacrosse team. Photo: Clarkson Creative

It’s said that Native Americans invented lacrosse, its origins taking root as early as the 12th century, played by the Iroquois in what is now New York state, southern Quebec and Ontario, Canada.

European immigrants have changed the game some since then, but what hasn’t changed is the zest and spirit many Native Americans still exhibit when they play the sport. For them it’s far more than a game. Case in point: DU men’s lacrosse player and first-year student Zach Miller, whose Native American lineage is Seneca in upstate New York.

“It’s a part of who I am; it’s part of my culture. I play to honor our creator,” says Miller, who grew up on a reservation of about 200. That culture was honored Saturday as part of the Denver March Pow Wow. During the Pioneers’ first Big East Conference game, against Rutgers, the hill overlooking Peter Barton Stadium featured Indians singing and dancing. Pow Wow representatives, along with Miller’s mother and four younger siblings and grandfather on his father’s side, also were in attendance.

Miller’s lacrosse roots run deep. When he was just 3 years old, his father took little Zach into their backyard, set him in front of a makeshift lacrosse goal and began shooting on him.

“That’s my first memory of lacrosse,” Miller says. “From there, it didn’t take long for my dad to realize I was probably not going to be big enough to play goalie, but he did think I had good stick skills and that I was fast enough to play in the field.”

Miller became one of the best high school players in the nation and stood out in the Under Armour senior All-American game, where he scored five goals. Miller was courted by some of the country’s top programs, including Syracuse University, the University of Virginia, the University of Maryland and Cornell University.

He says he chose DU because of “all the fun things to do in Denver and the coaches.”

Head coach Bill Tierney says Miller deserves his spot on the team’s starting lineup. “He’s that special; he’s the total package,” Tierney says. “He’s unselfish, he’d rather have an assist than a goal, and he’s very adept at being a scorer, from long distance to in-tight opportunities.”

Does that much praise produce pressure? “I guess I do feel a little bit of pressure,” says Miller, who has yet to settle on a major. “But I just plan to try and do my best. My mom and dad are proud of me, but they also tell me whatever I do here is up to me.”


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