Ray Miller’s 24 tackles last spring in a four-game schedule at Campbell University in North Carolina were fourth best on the team.
Then Miller was told by his coach that the team had someone else lined up to take his spot this fall, so the graduate student linebacker entered the NCAA transfer portal. Two schools were interested: Southern Illinois University and the University of Maine.
Concern over a knee injury a couple of years ago that required surgery took Southern Illinois out of the running.
“So here I am,” explained the native of Spartanburg, South Carolina.
Now all Miller wants to do is make a major impact at UMaine.
He has high expectations as UMaine prepares for its Sept. 2 opener against Delaware, which is ranked fifth nationally in the Football Championship Subdivision poll. UMaine was picked ninth out of 12 teams in the Colonial Athletic Association’s annual preseason poll.
He shone in UMaine’s first scrimmage but sat out the second one on Wednesday with a sprained ankle. He said he will be ready for the opener.
“I want to be an All-American and lead the country in tackles. I played the last two seasons in a knee brace and now I’m out of it. I want to show what I’m capable of,” the 6-foot-1, 230-pound Miller said.
Miller had an impressive career at Campbell University where he was involved in 179 tackles including 14.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, two fumble recoveries, seven pass deflections and an interception.
He was a three-time selection to Phil Steele’s Preseason Big South All-Conference team, including two second-team selections.
The Big South is a Football Championship Subdivision team like UMaine.
“Ray is a joy to work with and be around,” said UMaine head coach Nick Charlton. “He is an excellent player, a great tackler. Obviously he’s still learning the system but he’s an avid learner and the guys respect him for his work ethic and the way he attacks things.”
Miller said the adjustment has gone smoothly.
“It’s a very simple system. The biggest issue is learning the terms but, other than that, football is football wherever you go,” Miller said.
Miller could play an important role this season.
He will be wearing No. 6, which was previously worn by former All-American linebacker Deshawn Stevens, who transferred to the University of West Virginia.
Myles Taylor, another linebacker who saw a lot of playing time this past spring during UMaine’s four-game schedule, transferred to South Dakota State.
Charlton feels he has a number of quality linebackers ready to emerge, with Miller being one of them.
“He looks real good. He flies around, making plays. I can’t wait to see him play during the season,” said wide receiver and captain Andre Miller.
“He goes hard every play. As long as he’s on the field, he’s going to do his job,” said veteran cornerback Katley Joseph.
Miller said things have been “tremendous” so far.
“I really like the guys. The players and coaches have really welcomed me even with my temporary situation being a one-year player,” Miller said.
“I’ve called my parents many times and the word I keep using is ‘grateful.’ I appreciate being here.”