Dec. 8, 2010
Read John Denton's Knights Insider |
Follow us on Twitter |
Get social with the Knights on Facebook
By John Denton
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Maybe someone should alert the producers in Hollywood to Bruce Miller's incredible story at UCF. It is one of unrequited love, against-all-odds accomplishments and a potential big finish dripping with irony.
Miller, the player once unwanted by his beloved Georgia Bulldogs and overlooked by practically every college football program except UCF, added another chapter to his storybook career on Wednesday when he was named Conference USA's Defensive Player of the Year for a second consecutive year. He joins former Southern Miss linebacker Adalius Thomas as the only two-time winner of the award in C-USA history.
For Miller, it's an amazing climb for a standout defensive end who wasn't highly regarded coming out of high school in tiny Canton, Ga. Rather than flying under the radar, Miller is fond of saying, ``there was no radar at all.'' So doing what he has done at UCF these past four years has caused Miller to take time before the Knights' final game against Georgia in the Dec. 31 Liberty Bowl to reflect on his long journey.
``It's a pretty neat story ending your senior year playing your favorite team growing up in the last game of your career,'' Miller said of the pending showdown against the Bulldogs. ``Now that it's all coming to an end, I might think about it now all more now. Going through my career I never really thought about where I had come from but where I could get to and how hard I had to work to get there. Now that my career is coming to an end I can look back a little bit to where I was and where I am now and smile about it.''
There are plenty of reasons to smile at UCF these days what with the Knights cleaning up in Conference USA's major awards. Standout quarterback Jeff Godfrey, who took over the starting duties early in the season and led the Knights to a C-USA title, was named the league's Freshman of the Year on Wednesday. And head coach George O'Leary was named the league's Coach of the Year after directing the Knights to 10 wins and a second league title in four seasons.
Godfrey, who came to UCF because of the coaching staff's willingness to let him play quarterback, stabilized the offense by totaling 2,588 yards and 23 total touchdowns. He was the nation's most efficient freshman quarterback by completing 68.4 percent of his passes while throwing for 2,042 yards and 13 touchdowns. And he ran for another 10 TDs, a school record for freshmen quarterbacks.
O'Leary is now tied for third among active coaches with five Coach of the Year awards. Only Dennis Erickson (six) and Steve Spurrier (six) have more top coach awards than O'Leary (five), Frank Beamer (five) and Billy Snyder (five). O'Leary won Coach of the Year awards in 2005, '07 and '10 at UCF and in 1998 and '00 while coaching at Georgia Tech.
``All year long, the offense, the defense and the special teams complemented each other,'' O'Leary said. ``We did it (in Saturday's 17-1 defeat of SMU in the C-USA title game) and came through with our goal which was to win the conference championship.''
Miller, of course, played a big role in UCF (10-3) winning that championship. He ranked fifth on the team in total tackles (55), and he was again a dominant pass rusher with seven sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss. The seven sacks pushed his career total to 34 sacks, the most in UCF history and the fourth most among all FBS players ever in Florida.
And Miller had to do it all while being under constant scrutiny from opposing defenses. After recording 13 sacks and 18 tackles for loss in 2009 and winning his first Defensive Player of the Year award, Miller rarely had a free run at the quarterback this season. Often, he was double-teamed along the line, chipped by running backs and schemed against on a weekly basis.
But Miller, one of UCF's four captains, was an anchor for a UCF defense that ranked first in Conference USA in points allowed per game (18 ppg.), total defense (318.1 yards per game), rushing defense (110.4 yards per game), pass defense efficiency (115.1), sacks (29) and fewest first downs allowed (17.2 per game).
``I definitely did feel more pressure this season and as we went through the season it got worse and worse,'' Miller said. ``My stats weren't the same as they were last year and some of the other guys around the conference were just blowing up. So I didn't think I'd have a good shot at (the Defensive Player of the Year award), and this kind of caught me off guard.''
Miller also spent time out of position this season, playing defensive tackle to shore up some holes along the Knights' defensive line for the good of the team. O'Leary called Miller ``one of the most selfless players'' he had ever coached because of his team-first mentality. And Miller recently returned the love to his coach, stressing that his career at UCF never would have been possible without O'Leary's help.
``We were in the locker room talking (on Tuesday) about when we came in and they were 0-11 and were ranked 119th in the nation. Now, we've been to the conference championship three times in seven years, won it twice, ranked for the first time ever in the BCS, and that's a long way to go in seven years,'' Miller said. ``I just know the amount of respect that all of the guys have for Coach O'Leary. I've always looked up to coach by the way he handles everything. The program that we run is a tight ship and a lot of our guys would say we're not just better football players, but Coach O'Leary has helped us to become better people. That's how much he's helped a lot of the guys on this team.''
All that is left now for Miller is a Dec. 31 game against Georgia, the school he grew up rooting for and dreamed of playing for. But the Bulldogs showed little to no interest in him four years ago, only offering him a walk-on slot as he was heading to UCF. He stuck with his commitment to UCF, and he knows now that it was absolutely the best decision for him to be a Knight.
``Not until the very end did (Georgia) say that I could be a preferred walk-on. So I couldn't take that over UCF and I'm glad that I didn't,'' Miller remembered. ``It couldn't have gone better and I wouldn't ask for anything more than being a UCF Knight.''
Click here to receive the Knights Insider via email
John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at firstname.lastname@example.org.