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 BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) - Phone conversations can be repetitive. Face-to-face discussions are a bit different, too, because Brit Miller won't necessarily look the other person in the eye.
Instead, he'll read their lips.
The Illinois linebacker is deaf in his right ear, not that he has trouble holding a conversation.
He is one of the most engaging personalities on a team that made an improbable run to the Rose Bowl and hopes to surprise No. 6 Southern California on Tuesday.
``It's been more of a blessing,'' Miller said. ``It's allowed me to get down to business.''
That business involves taking out USC (10-2) and showing the nation that the 13th-ranked Illini (9-3) belong in a BCS game even with three losses.
After back-to-back two-win seasons, Illinois has a chance to establish itself on the national stage, and Miller is doing his part.
``Brit kind of resembles a little bit how we are as a coaching staff - hard working, be the best that you can be,'' coach Ron Zook said. ``He's done that in the classroom. He's kind of a comic. He always has people laughing. He's a guy that you love being around.''
Or, as linebacker J Leman put it: ``He's a goofball.''
A productive goofball.
A junior, Miller has 57 tackles and has broken up five passes. Clearly, he is able to compensate for his hearing loss - and joke about it.
``My girlfriend always gets mad at me - why don't you look in my eyes?''
His answer: ``Because I want to see what you're saying.''
``I get out of trouble with that,'' Miller said.
He called himself a ``left-ear talker on the telephone,'' but occasionally he slips up.
Sometimes, when he's doing something with his left hand, he'll grab the phone with his right one and place it over his right ear.
When coaches yell at him, he simply turns his right ear to them.
When he was a sophomore in high school, his history teacher told him the ancient Romans would abandon their sick babies in the wild.
``Later on, I'd go back in there when he's teaching the same lessons and he was like, 'You know what? If Brit Miller would have been born in ancient Rome, he'd have been left out to die.' I don't know what the moral of the story is. But he talked about how that would have happened to me. Thank God for modern medicine.''
But when Miller says his condition is a sort of blessing, he's serious.
``It's enabled me to do more in the sense that I've had to work harder for what I have,'' he said.
Miller was born about a month premature in September 1986 and had problems from the outset. Doctors inserted tubes to treat a perforated eardrum, but the problem resurfaced.
``I had tubes in my ear a couple times and it never really worked out, ended up perforating my eardrum again,'' he said. ``My mom told me, 'I could never see you going through the surgery again.' I guess you get really sick after that surgery, with the fluid in your ear and the balance.''
Miller started sitting at the front of the class, and he was around 10 or 11 when he found out he was deaf in his right ear. He still is prone to infections.
He often wears a stocking cap to protect his ears when others are wearing baseball caps. And winter is particularly brutal, with those bone-chilling temperatures and pounding midwest winds.
``Things like that have driven me crazy since I was a kid,'' he said.
So when Miller said he's enjoying his time in balmy Southern California, he had a few more reasons than his teammates.

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