This is the first in a series in which GatorBait.net will interview the departing seniors and NFL early entrants for a quick look back on their time at Florida as well as what they're up to now and plans for the future. In Part I Drew Miller kicks it off with an in-depth look at his time at Florida, his thoughts on Ron Zook and Urban Meyer, what he sees in his future and much more.
GatorBait.net: You were a member of Ron Zook's final recruiting class, what do you remember most about the recruiting process?
Drew Miller: "I remember all the phone calls and the visits. People can say what they want about it, that they get tired of it, but it felt good to have coaches want you. Put yourself in the shoes of the other guys on your team who didn't get recruited. Do you think they would complain about the coaches stopping by or the late night phone calls? I think you have to do that. It's a mess sometimes, but I have to say it beats not getting recruited at all."
GatorBait.net: You didn't redshirt, but barely played your freshman year. Looking back on it, do you wish you had that extra season back?
Drew Miller: "I came in and had some trouble getting a hang of the plays because of switching positions and from side to side. That held me back some my freshman year. When they realized I wasn't ready to play that much, they sort of put me off to the side a little bit. I definitely wish I could have that year back. I improved so much from last year to this year, I can't imagine how much better I would be if I had a whole other year. You have to play with the cards you are dealt. I think I made the best of the situation."
GatorBait.net: As a player, how much say do you have in whether or not you will be redshirted that first year?
Drew Miller: "It depends. Being a freshman, you aren't going to tell the coaches what they are going to do with you. At the beginning I might have been able to say that I needed to redshirt, but I wanted to play. If they need help and think you are ready, they're going to play you. If they don't need the help and don't think you are ready, they aren't. You don't get to tell them what you are going to do. They make the decision."
GatorBait.net: When you're being recruited you may have an idea of what it's going to be like, but at what point did you realize that college football is a big business? Did you realize at that point that this is a business? They have to go with what can help them retain their jobs?
Drew Miller: "I didn't think of it as a business when they put me off to the side. They had to go with what they had - who was ready. Once they got fired, it turned into a mess. I don't think they cared as much about getting players ready then. I mean it's their job - I think they were worried about moving on and finding a new one. I can understand that."
GatorBait.net: When a college coach is under the gun as Zook was - do the players feel the pressure as well?
Drew Miller: "I think the upperclassmen did. The starters definitely did. By the time the rumors were there at the Mississippi State game, I wasn't really playing that much. I was so young that I didn't know to pay attention to it. I was still trying to adjust to college life. I didn't know what was going on. The guys that were playing, the ones that were starting, they were part of that grind more than me."
GatorBait.net: You were a freshman during Zook's final season - what was your reaction when he was dismissed during your very first year?
Drew Miller: "I was like everyone else, I was shocked. We were given the impression when we signed that he was going to be given time [to turn it around], that he was going to be there for awhile, or I wouldn't have signed there. When it happened, I had to move on. I was eager to find out who was going to be the replacement and get off on a good foot with them."
GatorBait.net: What was your initial impression of Urban Meyer?
Drew Miller: "My impression after the first meeting was that he was going to be very strict. In that first meeting he was like, 'Sit up straight in your chairs and look at me when I'm talking to you.' I think he was trying to be intimidating because of some of the disciplinary problems we had the year before. I was excited about it. He was different, but I think he brought what we needed."
GatorBait.net: Several players now in this series have said he was much different. How were things different after Meyer took over?
Drew Miller: "School wise if your GPA wasn't where he thought it should be you had mandatory tutor hours - no exceptions. The worse your GPA was, the more hours you had to spend with the tutor and if you didn't do it, you knew you were going to get punished. It wasn't smoke and mirrors with him. He said how important it was to leave Florida with a degree and he backed it up. Little things like that. Even if a player didn't care about school or getting a degree, Meyer made them care because it was harder to go through the punishment than it was to work to get your GPA up. Things like making us part of his family - one big family. I never saw a coach's family until coach Meyer came in. After that, I've met every single wife and kid. I've been to three or four coach's houses, I've been to my position coach's house multiple times. Hung out with their kids. The family feeling was definitely a big part of what he [Meyer] wanted to bring to Florida. It's nice to have a home away from home."
GatorBait.net: Speaking of changes Meyer made. One of them was the Leadership Committee - of which you were a part. What did that entail?
Drew Miller: "It was a group of players the team voted on. That makes it an honor, to be considered a leader by your teammates. We had meetings like if someone got in trouble, they would come in front of us and we would decide the punishment to an extent. Coach Meyer always had final say, but he took our suggestions into consideration. We dealt with team issues - in a meeting if we saw a problem forming with a teammate or between teammates we would identify that and try to take care of it. We were the voice of the team in dealing with the coaches. We picked the food we wanted to eat. Uniforms. Punishments. Things like that. We were a discussion group that was there to bring the team together. Meyer didn't want there to be any little groups or cliques within the team. He wanted us all to be one big family."
GatorBait.net: Last year in this series Eric Wilbur said that he thought Meyer started out strict, but backed off a little. Did you see a change?
Drew Miller: "I think he did because he always said that if we had his trust, things would be different and if someone lost it, it would be different for that person. It was strict at the beginning, curfews were earlier, but as he got to know us he loosened up some. Now if players start to lose his trust, he's going to be harder on them. He said that from the beginning. If he trusts you and you do what you're supposed to do, he rewards you for it."
GatorBait.net: You've moved around all over the line. What was your thoughts when you were moved to center?
Drew Miller: "They approached me in the spring and asked me how I felt about possibility doing it. I was a little hesitant in my mind at first about doing it, but then I looked at what the line could be like with me at center and I realized that would be the best thing to help the team to have the best possible line. It was hard to get used to the snapping, but it worked out well. It helped me learn the position and made me more versatile for the NFL - who sees me primarily as a guard and center and an emergency tackle."
GatorBait.net: You snapped the ball to and blocked for a Heisman Trophy winner. How big is that?
Drew Miller: "It's definitely something I'll always remember. Playing with such a special person such as Tim Tebow - I'll never forget that. That's something the entire line took a lot of pride in. Everyone though he would get killed keeping the ball as much as he did. We took a lot of pride in blocking for him and keeping him healthy. When he won it, I was as happy as if I had won it. He's such a great person. I was happy for him to get it."
GatorBait.net: You also started on a National Championship winning team...
Drew Miller: "That was amazing. There's nothing you can compare that to. Look at all the players who have played the game - all the great players - and a lot of them can't say that they were the champions of college football. I still smile when I think about it. It's the best feeling I can think of for a player on a team to feel. It was the greatest."
GatorBait.net: What have you been up to since the end of the football season?
Drew Miller: "Since the season's been over I've been training in Sarasota with Rich Lansky's O.P.T.I and a couple of guys from other schools across the country. I participated in the East-West All-Star game in January. That went well. I had a productive week in front of the scouts. Since the end of the game I've been training at home twice a day. I work out about eight hours a day doing position work out on the fields or work on my speed and lift [weights]."
GatorBait.net: When you're involved in one of these post season games, what sort of feed back do you normally get from the NFL types?
Drew Miller: "I had a chance to meet with a lot of individual scouts. We set up interviews where they went over my positives and negatives. The criticism was that I tend to play out of football position and some said I lack upper body strength. I got positive feedback in that I'm athletic, I'm versatile and I move very well."
GatorBait.net: You lack upper body strength? You were a power lifter in high school and you look like you have tree trunks for arms. What exactly are they looking for?
Drew Miller: "That's what I was wondering too. I didn't say anything, it was good to hear some negative things so that I know what I need to work on. They said I needed to get stronger, so I'm working out eight hours a day. They talked about playing out of football position, so I work on that in the mornings. Whatever they want, I'm going to try to give it to them. I'm working toward giving them what they want at [UF's] Pro Day. I'm going to put up between 34 and 36 reps [on the bench press] and show them that I took their criticisms seriously and worked to improve on what they thought I needed to improve on."
GatorBait.net: You talked about versatility - you played all three line positions. You also had three different line coaches in your four years at Florida. Do you think that helped or hurt you?
Drew Miller: "I think it was a little of both. I think that it helped that they each gave me a little bit of different take on technique and it might of hurt some having to get used to their different coaching styles. [John] Hevesy and [Steve] Addazio were more so into being technically sound. I'm very grateful to those two - my game definitely improved under them. They're top coaches."
GatorBait.net: You talk about them as though they are one person, but personality wise, they seem to be on opposite ends of the spectrum.
Drew Miller: "They are very different. In personality and the way they do drills. Addazio is more rapid fire - right up there - let's get after it and go. Hevesy's style was to go a little slower and work on it a little more if you don't get it right the first time. Addazio is more intense with his approach. Both of their styles worked for us. Once you get used to their styles, it works the same."
In Friday's Part II - Miller talks about the players returning at the position as well as answers questions Gator fans submitted in the Alley.