The school, which Braxton Miller likened to a Midwest version of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., would be called Urbana Prep and Sports Institute.
“My Uncle Paul reached out to me about the acquisition with the campus shutting down,” Braxton Miller said. “It was a great opportunity to make my dream come true to have a school in the Midwest, do something big in the Midwest, to bring sports to the Midwest in that format.”
IMG Academy began as a tennis academy in 1978 but has grown into a training ground for elite athletes with teams competing in numerous sports, including football, baseball, basketball, soccer and lacrosse. It sits on more than 600 acres and includes a boarding school for kids in sixth-12th grade along with year-round camps and training activities.
The school has produced top-ranked tennis and golf players as well as highly-recruited football and basketball players who attended colleges throughout the country.
Urbana University operated from 1850 until last year when it was shut down by Franklin University, which purchased the school in 2014 and ran it as a branch campus. Franklin cited declining enrollment and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic when announcing the decision to close in March 2020.
Urbana competed at the Division II level of the NCAA and sponsored 21 teams, including football, soccer, basketball, volleyball, baseball and wrestling, and the school had recently upgraded some of its athletic facilities.
Covering more than 50,000 square acres, the campus has 22 buildings including dormitories, a theater and unused land.
“Having something like this that already has all the facilities that we need, it was a great idea, a great opportunity for us to jump on it and try to attack the process of creating our own school,” Braxton Miller said.
He spoke with enthusiasm about the potential of the project but added the deal is not done.
“It’s not all the way up to par yet, but we’re in the process of making it happen,” Miller said. “There’s a lot of things in between with the acquisition of the campus (and opening the school), and we’re taking our time with that. We’re crossing our Ts, dotting our ‘I’s and making the right decisions as far as acquiring something like this to create our own prep school.”
CBRE, a commercial real estate company firm handling the sale of the campus, declined comment for this story.
Franklin University spokesperson Sherry Mercurio said the campus is still for sale.
“While there has been a great deal of interest in the property, at this point in time no contracts have been signed,” Mercurio said.
Braxton Miller grew up in Springfield and starred at Wayne High School before playing at Ohio State from 2011-15.
He was fifth in Heisman Trophy balloting in 2012 and won the Chicago Tribune Silver Football as the Big Ten’s Most Valuable Player that season and again in ’13. He was also the conference offensive player and quarterback of the year twice as well as the freshman of the year.
A shoulder injury forced him to move to receiver as a senior, and he was a third-round pick of the Houston Texans in the 2016 NFL Draft. Dogged by injuries at the next level, he spent time with the Texans, Philadelphia Eagles, Cleveland Browns and Carolina Panthers before calling it a career.
Off the field, Miller now lives in Dublin, Ohio, and concentrates his time on his company, Charg1ng, and parenting his 8-year-old son, Landon.
Smith, who spent the early part of his childhood in Springfield before moving to Cleveland, won the Heisman Trophy and numerous other awards in 2006 when he led the Buckeyes to a second consecutive Big Ten championship and an appearance in the BCS National Championship Game.
After four seasons in the NFL and two in the Canadian Football League, he splits his time between Columbus and Cleveland.
Now he is looking forward to trying to give back via participating in the planned prep school.
“Coming from nothing, achieving something, and then having a tumultuous time in between, and then understanding why now that the times were tumultuous is what I want to give back to the kids,” he said. “I think that’s most important. Sports in midwestern Ohio will take care of itself. I think sports in its entirety, when you are genuine and real behind it, it takes care of itself. But we want to dig a little bit deeper into the character issues, the things that help people understand mental health, the ins and outs there. It’s okay for you to speak your mind and to be the specific athlete that you want to be or it doesn’t even have to be sports. That’s my reason of being here.”