Given more time to prepare, Drew Miller may have worn something else to his interview with the Prince William County Public School system in 2017. But there he was in shorts and a t-shirt, hair down to his back and a disheveled beard.

Drew Miller Tiger Turf Talk podcast
All photos provided by Drew Miller.

“I had nothing prepared,” Miller says with a laugh. “Not prepared to be interviewed at all.”

Fortunately, Miller is always prepared to talk turf.

Miller now heads up the Turfgrass Management Program at Brentsville High School in Virginia and hosts the Tiger Turf Talk podcast, where he interviews industry professionals to help students learn about their careers and experiences.

Before he entered the classroom, the Virginia Tech grad worked on grounds crews for the New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates of Major League Baseball, and Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League.

In 2017, Miller was home on break when his dad, a middle school principal, asked if he would meet with another local administrator interested in starting a turf management program at Brentsville. Miller arrived at the casual meeting with plenty of information and ideas on how students could paint, fertilize, mow and manage the school’s sports fields. The administrator was so impressed with Miller’s acumen and passion for the subject that he phoned the school’s principal on the spot to set up an interview — in 20 minutes. 

Six years later, Miller leads a growing program with over 200 students enrolled and no shortage of success stories.

The 2022 Softball Little League World Series made headlines when the first all-female grounds crew came together to care for the fields. Two of the volunteers came from the Brentsville High School Turfgrass Management Program.

In December 2022, students from the program traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina, to prepare and paint lines for the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) football championship.

“The ACC Championship was something special,” Miller said. “The head groundskeeper invited my kids down and he wanted to hire all of them after they left. They walked on the field and the grounds crew handed the equipment over and they just meshed so quickly with everything.”

The foundation of the program’s curriculum is built around hands-on learning. Miller and his students manage the school’s athletic facilities and grounds, including the neighboring elementary school’s grounds — a little over 30 acres. Students learn how to safely operate and properly maintain machinery to ensure it runs smoothly.

“There are so many things that I learned on the job that I think should be taught in the classroom,” Miller said. “What we saw is that a lot of kids in the program enjoyed the hands-on aspect. They loved having ownership of their work and being able to display it on Friday nights during football games.”

And the numbers back it up. From year one to year three, the number of students in the program quadrupled, and Miller estimates about 40 percent of the students are female. Many of Miller’s pupils have had opportunities to work on crews at the college, semi-pro and professional sports levels.

These are the types of hands-on, real-world experiences that Miller wished he would have had during his days as a student. Ultimately, the goal is to help students make informed decisions on their future college and career choices.

“We focus on giving kids the opportunity while they’re in school. I never want a kid to make a decision that’s not informed based on their experiences,” Miller said. “Something we pride ourselves on is placing kids in high school, so they know if this is something they want to pursue.”

Miller’s dedication to students and the industry extends well beyond the grounds of Brentsville High School. He has also spent time visiting with superintendents and school boards from multiple states to help develop their programs.

“We’ve done a lot of work on developing new programs around the country,” Miller said. “There’s endless opportunity to develop these programs.”

Keep up with the Brentsville Turfgrass Management Program on Twitter or listen to the Tiger Turf Talk podcast.