John Denton's Knight's Insider: Bruce Miller's Journey From Nowhere to NCAA Sack Leader

April 15, 2010


By John Denton

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ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - UCF star defensive end Bruce Miller is the reigning Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year, he has the most career sacks of any returning player in college football and he's poised to become the all-time leader in sacks among players from Florida schools.

But this, quite frankly, is where Miller has the biggest impact on UCF's football team. And if imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery, then Miller should be smiling. Because these days his coaches sure are.

``I see (sophomore tackle) Troy Davis emulating Bruce already. I see those guys on the defensive line watching him on film and studying him. You can see those younger kids look and act and try to play like Bruce Miller,'' UCF defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable said. ``I'm seeing it out of Troy Davis and (freshman tackle) Victor Gray. Bruce is just a great example for those young kids, and they follow his lead.''

Do they ever. There's not a more respected UCF player on either side of the football than the 6-foot-2, 255-pound senior end. His look with the bushy red hair, stubbled beard and thick, but hardly chiseled frame give him the appearance of a supporting player, but he is unquestionably the star of the team.

From the way he fights, fights and fights again on the pass rush to the way he pushes others in practice and leads with his words, Miller is the anchor of a UCF defense that has a chance to be special this season. He's spent this spring working some at defensive tackle and thriving once again as a blur of an end off the corner. And he heads into Saturday's Black and Gold Spring Game at Bright House Networks Stadium (1 p.m.) with the goal of helping to make others around him better.

1 Daniel Stubbs 39.5 1984-87 Miami NFL 1st Rd. Pick
2 Reinard Wilson 35.5 1993-96 Florida St. NFL 1st Rd. Pick
3 Greg Mark 34.5 1986-89 Miami NFL 1st Rd. Pick
4 Peter Boulware 34 1994-96 Florida St. NFL 1st Rd. Pick
5 Alex Brown 33 1998-01 Florida NFL 1st Rd. Pick
6 Elton Patterson 30.5 1999-02 UCF NFL 7th Rd. Pick
7 Kenny Holmes 30 1993-96 Miami NFL 1st Rd. Pick
8 George Selvie 29 2006-09 USF 2010 TBA NFL pick
9 Alonzo Johnson 27 1981-85 Florida NFL 2nd Rd. Pick
9 Bruce Miller 27 2007-09 UCF

He knows he'll enter next season with the proverbial bull's eye on his chest after registering 18 tackles for a loss and 13 sacks to push his career total to an impressive 27 in three seasons. Undoubtedly, he'll receive more attention next season, likely in the form of double teams and backs chipping on him off the edge. But that, he said, should help make the others around him better. And after all, the ability to impact others is the sign of a truly good player.

``I definitely think I'll get a lot more attention, but we still have three other guys who are great pass rushers,'' Miller said. ``They need to be ready for all four of us because we're coming harder. Maybe me getting more attention from offensive line and coaches helps our other guys get to the quarterback easier. That's fine with me.''

Those around Miller follow his lead and listen to his words because his is a story of success. Coming out of Woodstock High School in tiny Canton, Ga., Miller was lightly regarded as a college prospect. He dreamed of playing for the University of Georgia, but there was little to no interest from the Bulldogs at all. Miller likes to joke that rather than being under the radar as a prospect, ``there was no radar at all.''

He ended up at UCF where he put on some much needed muscle and strength and put his hand on the ground as a defensive end (as opposed to standing up as an outside linebacker) for the first time in his football life. As the saying goes, the rest is history.

He had a sack for a safety against N.C. State in his first game as a Knight and he went on to earn Honorable Mention Freshman All-American honors that season. He had another 17 sacks as a sophomore, and morphed into the dominant player on UCF's talented defensive line last season. He had 61 tackles last season to go with the 13 sacks and 18 stops for losses.

And the play that UCF players, fans and coaches still talk about is the bull rush into the backfield, the strip of tailback Darius Marshall and the recovery that helped UCF rally in the closing minutes to stun Marshall. It was the type of never-say-die play that defines Miller's grit as a player.

``Bruce is a whole different kind of player than anybody else because he goes 150-percent on every single play. You just don't expect for him to take a play off ever. And there's a lot of respect given because it's hard to do that,'' said UCF offensive tackle Nick Pieschel, the player who has to block Miler the most in practice. ``Bruce's attitude is he wants to beat you in every single aspect of the game. And when the defense gets down, they look to him. And what he says most likely always goes. And he backs it up too.''

Miller knows that things will most likely be different for him this season. Defensive tackle Torell Troup, a likely third round pick in next week's NFL Draft, is no longer around to command the double teams in the middle. And now in addition to having more double teams and the attention of coaches on him, Miller knows that NFL scouts will be watching his every move.

During UCF's recent Pro Day as Troup, Cory Hogue, Travis Timmons and Michael Greco worked out, Miller thought quietly to himself about how he'll likely be in that position next season. And he pondered how his senior season could be different. But there's no worry from UCF's coaching staff that the increased pressure will affect the unassuming Miller.

``Sure, Bruce's got a big bull's eye on back and we've talked about that. But with Bruce Miller those things just don't faze him,'' Huxtable said. ``Nothing bothers him and he just comes out and plays with one speed and that's full speed. Nothing changes that kid and he's just Mr. Steady. He'll be a great player for us again this year, no doubt about it.''

And Miller has no doubts that UCF's defense can be as good or better than it was last season. He helped UCF rank fourth in the country against the run and dominate just about every major statistical category in Conference USA last season. And so far this spring Miller thinks this defensive unit might be further along. That could help UCF what Miller hopes will be a truly special season in 2010.

``I think we're already where we were midway through the season last year. That's a good sign,'' he said. ``Things are definitely lining up for us. Every day we get better. At this pace, there's no telling what we can do come season time. We're excited, but we have to keep working hard.''


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