TAMPA — On a day when thousands of Bulls fans gathered at Raymond James Stadium for pictures and autographs with players and coaches, Skip Holtz added a little news to the festivities by saying junior walk-on receiver Joel Miller, the player at the center of the incident that led to Jim Leavitt's dismissal, has been placed on scholarship starting this fall.
"He's a young man who has busted his rear end, played on special teams here. He's earned it. He's deserving," said Holtz, who already promoted two senior walk-ons, defensive back Mistral Raymond and linebacker Donte Spires, at the start of preseason camp.
Miller, who moved from running back to receiver last week, had seven special-teams tackles as a redshirt freshman in 2008 and four tackles last season while working on several special-teams units. Leavitt was fired in January after a USF investigation found that he grabbed Miller by the throat and slapped him twice in the face during halftime of USF's Nov. 21 game against Louisville; Leavitt has denied the charges and filed a wrongful termination suit against USF.
For Miller, it's another chance to get a fresh start with a new coach and a new season.
"I'm really excited about it. It's a brand-new opportunity," said Miller, who played at Wharton and transferred to USF after one semester at The Citadel. "Without my team, the coaches and the staff, I don't think I would have gotten this. If you don't come in with a scholarship, you're still a part of the team, and everyone treats you as part of the team. No one treats you as something different. Everybody has helped me get to this point."
Miller, again expected to be a top contributor on special teams, is new to receiver but showed good hands as a back and is working on learning his routes, hoping to find a way onto the field at a different position.
"It's a new transition, but I think I can help the team," said Miller, one of seven former walk-ons now on scholarship with the Bulls.
• Holtz said redshirt freshman Josh Garvin, a backup offensive guard from Lakeland, has decided to no longer play football. Holtz had let Garvin take a leave at the start of camp to attend to "personal issues," but Garvin told him Sunday morning that he would not return. "We wish him nothing but the best," Holtz said. "This was not a football issue or a football decision. It was a personal decision he had to make himself."
• Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder had more praise for sophomore Mike Lanaris, who is holding onto the starting middle linebacker job ahead of Sam Barrington, who has missed time with off-field and injury issues. Lanaris had just one tackle last season (Barrington had 40), but Snyder said he likes Lanaris' approach and understanding of USF's defense.
"I've played with a lot of Mike Lanarises in my career and had a lot of success with guys like that," Snyder said. "To me, coming in, he was the guy after I saw him practice a few times. He's a very smart guy, knows his limitations. He's the calming factor of that whole front because he knows everything. … He'll have a great career here."
Snyder said his system lends itself to the weakside linebacker being the top tackler, requiring a middle linebacker who knows the scheme well enough to line up everyone else in the right position with correct reads.
He compared Lanaris' awareness to two All-Americans he coached at Ohio State, Andy Katzenmoyer and A.J. Hawk. "That's the guy that runs the show," Snyder said. "Mike stepped into that role and embraced it, and he's doing his best not to relinquish it."
• After talking about senior Mo Plancher as the primary ballcarrier, Holtz said he's looking at running "by committee," with offensive coordinator Todd Fitch saying that untested backups Demetris Murray and Bradley Battles would rotate in with Plancher, who has been limited by a shoulder injury. Fitch said Battles, a redshirt freshman, performed best in Saturday's scrimmage.
Greg Auman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bulls and follow him at Twitter.com/gregauman.