Penn State transfer Jarvis Miller adds leadership to UMass football

  • UMass Head Coach Walt Bell watches his team during spring practice Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at McGuirk Stadium.

Staff Writer
Published: 4/7/2019 9:15:18 PM

AMHERST — When Walt Bell did his research on Jarvis Miller, he couldn’t find much dirt on the linebacker.

The coaches at Penn State loved Miller and wanted him to return for a fifth season, but raved to Bell about the Springfield-born graduate transfer. Similar glowing reviews came from the various other people Bell spoke to about Miller, giving him the comfort to bring Miller to UMass as a veteran leader.

“All the investigations we did it was ‘unbelievable child’ ‘hard worker’ ‘great kid,’” Bell said. “Especially in the first year of building a culture, you have to make sure the guys you bring into the roster as older guys that they handle their business and do what they’re supposed to do. He’s been everything that we were told he was, he’s one of the best workers on the team, great vocal leader, great physical leader by example, (we’re) glad he’s here.”

Miller decided it was in his best interest to move closer to his Suffield, Connecticut home after being trapped on the depth chart behind a talented group of linebackers at Penn State. He committed to Penn State as a safety, but quickly switched to being an outside linebacker in the Nittany Lions’ scheme. His arrival in Amherst has brought on a new position switch with Miller playing mostly at middle linebacker during drills.

However, Miller said his versatility is one of the major strengths he can bring to the Minutemen this season along with his quickness and on-field experience

“My speed is my strength, especially for how big I am, I’m around 225 (pounds),” Miller said. “I was formerly a DB before I got switched to linebacker at Penn State. And then this is my fifth year so I’ve seen a lot of football. IQ-wise, I feel like I kind of know what I’m doing in terms of looking at an offense and diagnosing plays.”

He has already begun to dispense that information to the younger linebackers on the UMass roster, many of whom have not taken meaningful snaps in a game. But even for the ones who have played a lot, like juniors Cole McCubrey and Chinedu Ogbonna, having a new leader in the meeting rooms to replace Bryton Barr has been a welcome addition.

“He brings a lot of maturity,” McCubrey said. “He’s the oldest one in the linebacker room right now and he’s been to places where he’s won games. He just comes with a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge that he’s trying to pass on to us.”

Leadership is something Miller said comes natural to him and he’s always placed himself in those roles where he can be vocal with his teammates. He said he’s been a leader for long enough that he wasn’t worried about coming into a new situation and be cautious about being a leader. Thus far he has blended in well with his new teammates – all of whom are in a similar spot of having to learn a new system and adjust to a new coaching staff – and is already becoming a heartbeat of the defense.

Ogbonna said Miller is always among the first to talk to people if they’re having a bad day and try to motivate them.

“He’s vocal, but he’s not doing it just for himself, he’s doing it for everybody else,” Ogbonna said. “If you’re feeling bad, he’s coming up to you and making sure you feel good. (On Tuesday), I wasn’t feeling good at the beginning of practice, and he came up to me and talked to me, and by the end, (I was) excited again.”

On the field, though, Miller will likely play an important role as UMass tries to improve upon a defense that has been the program’s Achilles heel for a long time. He said his goal for spring practices is to learn the scheme and his role, so that he can work on improving himself physically heading into training camp in July.

“(My goal is) being 100 percent on everything I do,” Miller said. “Just making sure I know all my plays, I know everything about what I’m doing out there so when summer comes I can just focus on my body and getting my body right and getting in better shape so that when camp comes I’m ready to roll.”

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