Touk Miller has had to grow up fast.
Still only 23, the Gold Coast midfielder is one of several young Suns driving the standards at a club that has undergone a major cultural shift under coach Stuart Dew over the past 18 months.
Named co-vice-captain alongside Pearce Hanley at the start of 2019, with David Swallow and Jarrod Witts installed as co-captains, Miller has relished the responsibility that has been afforded to him and he’s put his own mark on a club finding its way following the departures of 2018 co-captains Tom Lynch and Steven May.
“I do love it. I’m really honoured to be in a position like that. It’s not every day you’re 23 and vice-captain of an AFL club,” Miller told AFLPlayers.com.au.
“I guess we’ve taken it upon ourselves, the leadership group, to try to instill good training habits, teaching our young players how to prepare themselves for a game and how to live that off-field lifestyle as well.”
The Gold Coast brand remains a work in progress, with Dew, CEO Mark Evans and football manager Jon Haines playing a key role in the regeneration of the club.
With that hard work going on in the background, Miller said he has definitely noticed an evolution at the Suns in the last few seasons when compared to the environment he was drafted into when he was selected with pick No. 29 in the 2014 AFL Draft.
“There’s been a turnover of 30-plus players since I’ve been here and it’s the same with the coaching staff and the high performance team. That’s enough to warrant a lot of change in the club, but I think where we are now in terms of the brand of football we’re playing, the culture that we’re building. I think it’s a lot more stable and it’s going to have a lot more purpose going forward,” Miller said.
“In the past, I didn’t know any different so it was a little bit harder (to assess). But now that I’ve seen two sides of those things, I’m starting to see what’s working better for the club, what’s going to be more steady and make us a top four club for many years to come.”
Miller said being in a leadership position in just his fifth season in the AFL system had exposed him to a multitude of opportunities.
“I’ve had to mature a bit quicker based on the roles I was given and the position I’m in,” Miller said.
“I’ve got to say it hasn’t hindered me too much, it’s provided me with opportunities to learn, get better and take the club forward in a small time frame.”
Miller has averaged 22.1 disposals and a career-high 4.7 clearances per game in 2019, despite missing three games with a niggling heel injury before returning to the team last week against North Melbourne.
“I did 100 per cent of the pre-season and played the first part of the season and then you get a niggle so that’s meant I haven’t been training for the last five or six weeks. But that’s just part of footy, as frustrating as it is sometimes you tend to forget how minor it is in the context of your career.”
Living on the Gold Coast is agreeing with Miller, who earlier this year put pen-to-paper on a new deal through until 2022, and as an avid golfer and surfer he has found plenty of time to delve into those pursuits.
Miller spent time shaping surfboards earlier in his career on the Coast, while he and Suns teammate Peter Wright did an internship with an architecture firm in Southport last year. The midfielder is also in the process of completing a business degree at university, as he makes a conscious effort of finding important work-life balance in his life.
Working on lowering his golf handicap and having a surf allow Miller to have an outlet away from footy, but it comes as no surprise that everything he does and how he carries himself directly align with the culture Gold Coast is seeking to create led, of course, by its young leaders.
“It’s about what you do on-field and off-field, how you hold yourself day-to-day and if you’re having a bad day you can’t afford to bring people down with you,” Miller said.
“You’ve got to be conscious of your teammates’ personalities, how they act, what’s going on at home. There’s a lot to it – but that’s why you put yourself in the role. You want to be there, you want to lead the club somewhere so that’s pretty exciting.”