TAMPA ― Spring football has a way of making momentary stars of the unheralded. We could clog cyberspace with names of players who shined in a spring game, only to retreat to depth-chart obscurity in the fall.
Which leads us to 5-foot-10 USF walk-on slot receiver Bryce Miller. Normally, we’d be reticent to make a froth of this East Lake High alumnus’ breakout spring, which included a steady supply of first-team reps in practices and a 10-yard touchdown catch in Saturday’s spring game.
But this emergence seems different. Miller’s spring performance, scout-team effort in 2018 and prosperous pre-USF career all suggest he could evolve into a rotation regular.
So does Charlie Strong.
“I love Bryce Miller,” the Bulls’ third-year coach said Saturday.
Turns out, Strong has spent the better part of a year observing the same resilience, route precision, football IQ and pillowy hands that caught East Lake coach Bob Hudson’s eye as early as 2013.
“He’s a phenomenal route runner,” Hudson said. “And what I mean by that is ... accelerating in and out of his breaks to get open. I knew it when he was a freshman.”
At the end of that freshman JV season, Hudson promoted Miller and immediately plugged him into a rotation featuring eventual Division I receivers Artavis Scott (Clemson) and George Campbell (FSU, Penn State). By his senior year, Miller was East Lake’s unquestioned go-to receiver.
He caught 56 passes for 916 yards and 16 touchdowns while helping lead East Lake (9-2) to a Class 7A region final, and was a first-team pick on the Tampa Bay Times’ all-Tampa Bay team.
Yet Hudson went hoarse lauding Miller’s skill set to Division I scouts, who couldn’t seem to get past his size and lack of elite speed.
“Even though I’d show 'em film after film after film, touchdown after touchdown, just losing people and making 'em look silly,” Hudson said.
So Miller landed at NAIA Southeastern University in Lakeland, totaling 24 catches for 319 yards as a freshman in 2017. He walked on at USF the following year, sitting out the season per NCAA transfer guidelines.
“(Eddie) McDoom (Michigan transfer) and Bryce came at the same time,” Strong said. “So they were on scout team and they did a lot of things, so you could see them developing and becoming something special.”
Just how special remains to be seen. Converted tailback Johnny Ford and McDoom appear atop the slot-receiver depth chart, and much could transpire between April and August.
But unlike countless other spring “stars” of the past, Miller’s emergence doesn’t possess a fly-by-night feel.
“He’s just a really, really smart football player too,” Hudson said. "He’ll find holes in zones because he’s not the biggest kid, he’s not the fastest kid, so he’s got to do other things. But unbelievable ball skills, very good football IQ.
“I think he’ll be a big surprise in the world.”
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.