Florida linebackers Houston, Miller ready to make up for lost 2017 season


It’s no secret Florida’s linebackers struggled as a whole in 2017, but it wasn’t due to subpar recruiting of the position.

Not one of the four linebackers signed by Randy Shannon and UF’s coaching staff in the 2017 class saw the field last season, leaving the program devoid of depth as the Gators struggled to a 4-7 record.

But as UF looks to rebuild under Dan Mullen, the linebacker unit seems poised to make a big leap in 2018.

In addition to the return of Nick Smith, who redshirted as a freshman due to injury, the Gators will bolster their linebacker depth with the return of in-state playmakers James Houston and Ventrell Miller.

Houston and Miller missed their freshman seasons due to their alleged involvement in the credit card fraud scandal that derailed the 2017 season before it could begin. With a considerable time spent away from the game — Houston’s hiatus from football spanned nearly two years due to an injury in his senior year of high school — it would appear the two have an uphill climb to regain playing time in UF’s rotation this season.

If you ask Houston and Miller about the affect the suspensions had on their progression, however, the answer might come as a surprise.

Although the time away from the field and the game he grew to love was no easy task, Houston said the suspension helped him undergo some much-needed maturing off of the field.

“I kind of had to grow up a little bit. I had to look at my life and re-evaluate where I was going and how I was thinking and going about things,” Houston said. “I feel like I’m a different person. I’m just hungry to play. I haven’t played in like two years. I’m ready to go.”

He believes the transition to Mullen’s leadership has helped the team grow closer together, and that the linebackers are far from the only position group to see an increase in maturity.

“Since Mullen’s come in here and (strength and conditioning coach Nick) Savage has gotten a handle on us, we definitely have become closer,” Houston said. “We definitely have matured a lot more. We’re just taking things way more serious.”

Miller, a Lakeland native who had scholarship offers from 35 programs coming out of Kathleen High, concurred that the season-long suspension helped rather than hinder his development.

“It was a humbling experience. I mean I wanted to be on the field like that, so it humbled me,” Miller said. “I feel like it made me a better player.”

But don’t just take it from the horse’s mouth: junior linebacker David Reese bestowed Houston and Miller with an impressive compliment regarding the duo’s future at Florida.

“They are two great linebackers. I feel like that’s going to be the future of this defense,” Reese said. “I feel like those guys, Ventrell is good in coverage and Houston is also a very fast guy and can get to the ball very quick.”


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