John Denton's Knights Insider: Bruce Miller Almost Called it Quits in High School

Dec. 14, 2009

By John Denton

Click here to receive the Knights Insider via email

Looking back, Bruce Miller can laugh about it now and wonder what might have been had he not had such a caring parent. After all, there was a time when Conference USA's reigning Defensive Player of the Year wasn't such a beast on the football field and was, in fact, ``a skinny, last-string receiver.''

It was Miller's freshman year at Woodstock High School in tiny Canton, Ga., and he didn't love football nearly as much as he does now. Miller made up his mind after one particular practice that he had enough and that the next day he would just not show up and soon enough he would be done with football.

``I was this skinny kid and I was getting knocked around pretty good,'' Miller remembered. ``I made up my mind that I was going to quit, but my mom (Lisa Miller) came by the bus stop that day and picked me up and took me back to practice about 30 minutes late. She just told me that I was going to play and I was going to do my best. We still laugh about now. And me and my old coach, we laugh about it, too.''

Miller, now 253 pounds of energy and enthusiasm, laughed all the way to C-USA's most prestigious individual defensive honor last week. He won the award after finishing tied for fifth in the nation in sacks (12), while also registering 16 tackles for loss, seven quarterback hurries and 53 total stops.

Not bad for a player who was hardly recruited at all coming out of high school. UCF defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable, who had the Atlanta area as part of his recruiting zone, heard about Miller from another coach and he went to check out the skinny, red-headed kid. What he saw was a player who had a zest for competition regardless the sport and a high-energy motor that raced at all times.

``I got Bruce's films and looked at them,'' Huxtable said. ``He's playing tight end and running and catching balls. He's on the kickoff cover team and he's the first one down the field making plays. And then I go watch him play basketball and he's a 6-2 center battling down low on the boards. He was something to see.''

But Miller was still somewhat of a secret. He always had dreams of playing for the University of Georgia, but all that ever came from the Bulldogs was a late chance to walk-on to the team. The chance to play at UCF was an easy one to accept because it was his lone scholarship offer.

``What I'm saying is that I wasn't just under the radar,'' Miller said while chuckling. ``There was no radar.''

Miller is certainly on teams' radars now after serving as a one-man wrecking crew this season for UCF's dominant defense. The 8-4 Knights are headed to the St. Petersburg Bowl this Saturday to face Rutgers in large part because of a defense that smothered foes all season.

UCF ranked fourth in the country against the run, trailing only undefeated teams Texas, Alabama and TCU. And because they had Miller coming hard off the end, UCF finished tied for fifth in the country in sacks per game (3.08 and 37 total) and ranked 11th in tackles for loss (7.58 per game and 91 for the season).

Miller, a redshirt junior, came to UCF as a linebacker, but was shifted to defensive end after he went from 225 to 250 pounds during his freshman year on campus. The added weight helped him have more power against opposing linemen, while he was still able to keep his speed off the edge and his incredibly high motor.

Miller is quick to give much of his success to Huxtable and defensive line coach Jim Panagos. And he says that without standout defensive tackle Torrell Troup (a likely high draft pick in the NFL Draft) taking up double teams, he wouldn't have the freedom to go against single coverage around the end. And ever humble, he said that he was ``so surprised'' to win C-USA's Defensive Player of the Year even though he was the obvious choice after a dominant season.

But Huxtable said Miller has gotten to where he is now because of his unbreakable will and his ability to fight, fight and fight again on plays. He is never out of a play because he doesn't quit, Huxtable said.

That was never more evident than in the closing minutes of UCF's game at Bright House Networks Stadium on Nov. 1. UCF trailed 20-13 in the final two minutes and Marshall had the ball attempting to run out the clock. But Miller stripped the ball out of Darius Marshall's arms and UCF recovered the football. Seconds later, UCF scored the game-winning points and the play seemed to propel the Knights onto wins in their final six conference games.

``He's just a fighter,'' Huxtable marveled. ``We talk all the time about how every play is a series of efforts and not just one or two efforts. If you watch Bruce, it's five, six or seven efforts on every play and that's what separates him from most guys. He's just relentless in everything that he does.''

Miller, a junior, will need to be relentless against a Rutgers offensive line that is as big and powerful as any that UCF will face all season. Left tackle Anthony Davis, all 6-foot-6, 325 pounds of him, is a star likely destined for the NFL, and Miller knows the Knights have their work cut out for them.

``They're a great football team. Their big and strong on offense and we're excited to play them,'' he said. ``(Davis) is an outstanding football player. To be able to play against a player of that caliber will be a challenge.''


John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFathletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.