Feeding rats to snakes helped Texans RB Lamar Miller pay for his first car

Lamar Miller rushed for 2,930 yards and 19 touchdowns in four seasons with the Dolphins. AP Photo/Michael Perez

HOUSTON -- Houston Texans running back Lamar Miller drives an Audi A7 and also has a Jeep Wrangler. Having signed a four-year deal worth $26 million, with $14 million in guarantees, he's working on buying a house for his parents.

But eight years ago he needed some cash for a more modest goal.

His parents taught him the value of hard work as a child. His mother works in a hospital and his father drives a garbage truck. Each had two jobs to help care for Miller and his sister, and in the summer of 2008 they agreed to share the cost of a car with him.

To help pay for that 2004 Ford Taurus, Miller faced his fear of animals and got a job at Miami MetroZoo.

In Houston, Miller is hoping to become a workhorse back in a way his previous team, the Miami Dolphins, never used him. Here's a look at the person the Texans signed, that scary zoo job and the relatives to whom he dedicates his NFL career.

How long did you work at the zoo?

Miller: I only worked there for like the summer going into my senior year in high school. A person that I grew up with, his mom knew the person who was the manager at the zoo. We just needed a summer job for that year, so we just worked there.

What did you do there?

Miller: We would [pick up] the trash and feed some of the animals. We used to give rats and stuff to the snakes and feed the birds. The majority of the job was picking up the trash.

I'm scared of animals. I don't like animals.

Given that fear, did you have to be talked into working at a zoo?

Miller: No, I didn't have to be talked into it. I needed money so that's the only reason why I really did it, to be honest. I'm scared of snakes. I just dropped the rat in there. I just dropped it in there and let the snake do their job.

How do you feed a rat to a snake?

Miller: You just grab it by its tail and just drop it in there. I'm scared of rats, too. It's gross.

That actually sounds terrifying. How did you psych yourself up to do it?

Miller: I had two friends that worked at this job as well. Once I'd see them do it, you gotta act like you're tough. At the end of the day you're scared, but just seeing them do it, I had to do it.

What caused this fear of animals?

Miller: When I was a kid I got bit by a dog. ... I was like 7 years old. I was in a backyard and I was running and a dog got loose. I tried to jump the gate and the dog bit me in my butt. My mom, she had a dog, but that's our dog so I'm not scared of it. [The dog that bit me] was a medium-sized dog. It wasn't too big or too small but a medium-sized dog.

Who was the most important influence you had when you were growing up?

Miller: My parents.

What did they teach you?

Miller: Always work hard for the things that you want in life. That's something instilled in me for my whole life. Growing up it was my sister and my parents. They were working two jobs to provide for me and my sister. They told me nothing comes easy in life.

When you're on the field, who do you play for?

Miller: I play for my grandma and my auntie. Growing up I always told my grandma that I will make it to the NFL. She's seen me play football growing up until I was in like seventh grade and she kept having strokes. The year that I had 1,000 yards [2014], she passed away like two weeks after. My auntie passed away two weeks after the season. So it was like back to back. I just try to dedicate the rest of my NFL career to them.

How tough was that?

Miller: It was tough. My auntie told my mom don't celebrate [the 1,000-yard season] without her because she was in the hospital. She was in the hospital for a whole week. The week after, she passed away. It was pretty tough on my end. ... I think she had a blood clot or something like that.

Was your grandmother sick?

Miller: She'd been sick since I was in the seventh grade. She used to watch TV, but she didn't really understand what was going on. She couldn't really speak or anything because she had two strokes. She used to be happy and stuff. She'd just laugh. ... I remember she just used to always make sure we were involved in church. Every week she used to always come get us every Wednesday and Sunday. We'd go to church.

Did you ever visit their graves?

Miller: Yes, I used to try to go. Last year I really didn't go that much, but Mother's Day and stuff, we try to go and [leave] flowers.

Did that make it even harder to leave Miami, where you spent your whole life?

Miller: Yeah, it was hard to leave in general just because my whole family is there, but at the end of the day I was just trying to make sure that they're comfortable with that decision. They want to see me be successful in what I do. They told me everything will be OK. It made it easy to know that.

Is there some excitement in the fresh start?

Miller: Yes. I'm excited to be here. We have a great group of guys in the locker room. They've welcomed me with open arms. I'm just ready to get this thing started.