Ventrell Miller has come a long way on his 'crazy journey' at Florida
Ventrell Miller has a motto. It often guides him toward collisions with other human beings.
This weekend, he will take a softer approach.
It’s a bye week for Florida, and the team’s best player plans to be in the Fort Myers area. As calamitous as UF’s defense has been this season, Miller knows a real disaster when he sees one.
“My motto is “Dirty Hard Work.” I put this term to use daily on the field, but now it’s time to apply it to a real-life situation.”
So reads this introduction on the GoFundMe page Miller set up to raise money for victims of Hurricane Ian. It’s raised about $9,000 as of Wednesday. Miller was hoping for more, but he’ll gladly take what’s there and distribute it to people in and around Lee County.
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If that’s how Miller chooses to spend his one Saturday off this fall, no one in Gainesville is surprised.
“Ventrell is what being a University of Florida football player is all about,” Billy Napier said.
Those are words almost nobody expected they’d hear from a Florida coach shortly after Miller arrived on campus. He and eight other players used stolen credit card numbers to go on personal spending sprees.
The players were suspended the entire 2017 season. Some transferred or just fell by the wayside. Miller decided to stick it out.
“It matured him,” said his brother Antonio. “He didn’t even know if he would make it back to the team. It was all so real, so fast.”
Antonio is the one who came up with the hurricane relief idea. A lot of players have capitalized on their fame with NIL, and many have used that platform for charitable purposes. Ventrell wasn’t sure his name was big enough to generate much attention.
“He’s a humble guy,” Antonio said. “He doesn’t think about it in that light.”
Ventrell Miller's Millerville Foundation seeks to do good
They set up a nonprofit and named it Millerville Foundation Inc. Considering their football fame, Millerville would have been a fitting name for Lakeland when the brothers were coming up.
They shared the hard-working gene. Antonio was two years older, but never filled out quite like his younger brother. He walked on as a long snapper at FAMU and turned himself into an All-MEAC linebacker.
Ventrell? There was always something a little different about him.
“When it came to football,” Antonio said, “he always had malicious intent.”
As a Pee Wee League running back, Ventrell wanted to destroy tacklers. As a college linebacker, he’s a ball-seeking missile.
He dug himself out of the credit scam doghouse, made the SEC All-Academic Honor Roll and returned an interception 82 yards for touchdown as a redshirt freshman. He entrenched himself as a starter the next season.
The Gators found out how valuable Miller is last year. He tore a biceps tendon in Week 2 and missed the rest of the season.
The overall defense hasn’t been much better this year, ranking No. 106 out of 131 FBS teams in total defense. It might be No. 131 without Miller. A foot injury has required a lot of rehab and grimacing, but Miller still might win the Comeback Player of the Year award.
Billy Napier calls Ventrell Miller 'inspirational'
"The guy’s inspirational relative to his example, his consistency as a person, his leadership, his presence,” Napier said.
Again, how odd that would have sounded in 2017. Though a little more context might help explain the transformation. Ventrell is the second oldest of five boys, raised by a single mother.
“I guess you could say it wasn’t your typical American Dream you see on TV,” Antonio said.
Their grandparents helped out as much as possible, but Millerville would never be mistaken for Park Avenue. Against that backdrop, you can see how a kid leaving home for the first time might be enticed by easy money.
That doesn’t excuse thievery. Miller deserved the punishment he got. But he also deserved understanding and a chance to make things right.
“Definitely a crazy journey,” he said. “I think it definitely made me the person I am today.”
The journey will take a detour to Southwest Florida this weekend. The Gators’ defensive woes turn trivial compared to the catastrophe down there. Beyond the financial aid Miller will bring, maybe the hurricane victims can take something from the words he lives by.
Life can turn into a mess. But you can dig out if you put in enough dirty hard work.
David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @DavidEWhitley