Predicting that Gunner Miller was going to arrive at Scrappy Moore Field on Sunday morning driven and determined was an easy guess, like picking that the sun will rise.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga senior linebacker is usually quite focused on whatever it is he’s pursuing, whether it’s a running back, getting stronger in the weight room or his post-college goal of a career in professional wrestling.
And with NBC rebroadcasting Saturday night the Wrestlemania main event between The Rock and John Cena, Miller was probably ready to run through brick walls to get to practice.
“I was fired up this morning,” the former East Ridge High School football and baseball star said.
Mocs coach Russ Huesman was fired up at the end of Sunday’s 7:45 a.m. practice, the fifth of the preseason and the first in full pads. Huesman cut practice a few plays short after one more sloppy play, a fumbled handoff, in the final period of a sub-par 28-period session.
Amid a spirited tirade about guys being lazy, unfocused and unprepared, he commended Miller for his effort and efforts to get his teammates going. Huesman said just about every team has a few players as driven as Miller, “but there aren’t 22 like him,” he said.
“He’s a good leader and a great kid,” said Huesman, who signed Miller to a partial scholarship in the first signing class after Huesman took over in December 2008.
Since he arrived at UTC, Miller has spent more time in the weight room than just about anyone except strength coach Scott Brincks. He loves it in there, where hard work is so clearly rewarded. All-American defensive end Davis Tull feels the same way.
“I love working out with Gunner because me and him are really the ones … that push each other,” the junior said. “We’re always competing for numbers.”
Miller started five games as a freshman and eight each of the past two seasons. He has 131 career tackles, a number that would be higher if it weren’t for some shoulder stinger injuries and the Mocs’ increased usage of five defensive backs.
Miller has been the Will linebacker in the past, and has been the one to come out when UTC has switched to the nickel. Miller is now the Sam, with Nakevion Leslie taking the Will and All-American Wes Dothard playing the Mike.
“He’s now playing in the box and his role is going to be different,” linebackers coach Rusty Wright said. “He’ll have to play in space some, but not as much as he has in the past. He’ll be in the box and I think that will help him be an even better player.”
Miller said he wants the Mocs to be an even better team than the “average” squads of the past few seasons. To get there, they have to practice better than they did Sunday, starting with this morning’s 6:30 session.
“There’s definitely been an improvement [in the program], but we’re not satisfied at all,” he said. “We’ve got a chip on our shoulder and we’re ready to show everybody what we’ve got. We definitely can’t have practices like this to get to that goal.”
Backup receiver Al Thompson has decided to transfer, Huesman said. A three-star prospect out of Brentwood Academy, he redshirted last season and never made a move up the depth chart in the spring or early in camp. “I didn’t want him to leave, but you’ve got to be happy and feel like you’re competing,” Huesman said. … Safeties D.J. Key (foot), Zach McCarter (knee) and Dean Haynes (ankle) and offensive lineman Robert Hill (foot) did not practice.
Contact John Frierson at email@example.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MocsBeat.