College Park — Bridgett Gilbert-Johns had gone to bed early Thursday night at the family’s home in Middletown, Delaware, oblivious to the text that her son, Maryland senior linebacker Bruce Miller III, had sent her. It showed a video of what had unfolded earlier, during the first media timeout of the third quarter of an NFL preseason game between the Ravens and Green Bay Packers at M&T Bank Stadium.
It took a few phone calls from her son to rouse Gilbert-Johns from her sleep, but even then it seemed almost like a dream.
‘He asked, ‘Mom, did you get my message?’ and I said, ‘No, I was asleep. What is it?’ ” Gilbert-Johns recalled in a telephone interview Friday night. “He said, ‘Hurry up and look at it.’”
And then Gilbert-Johns realized that her son’s dream had come true.
Miller started his college football career at a junior college in Massachusetts and came to Maryland as a walk-on last season mainly to join his younger brother, B’Ahmad, as he was starting his career with the Terps. On Thursday evening, he had been asked to read what he thought was a promotion about the upcoming football season.
Instead, the card said that he was being put on scholarship by first-year coach Mike Locksley. Even before Miller could finish reading words of congratulations, he was engulfed by his teammates. Miller said after practice Friday that he was completely surprised by the scholarship.
“I just thought I was reading a message from Coach Locks. He gave me the paper, and I still didn’t know until I got to that part [congratulating him],” Miller said. “It’s mind-blowing."
He compared his experience to the viral videos of players being surprised with scholarships.
“You always see little videos, but you never really think it’s going to be you until it really happens,” he said. "I’m still in shock about it.”
When Gilbert-Johns opened up the text with the video, she started to cry. So did his father, Bruce Miller Jr., who played football at Norfolk State, and his stepfather, Damon Johns. And his younger brother, who knew “something was up” when he got a playful shove from one of their teammates just before Bruce Miller read the message that was piped in throughout the stadium.
“I was crying before he was crying,” B’Ahmad Miller, a redshirt freshman, said Friday. “It’s just been a long journey for him. I’m happy for him. I’m happy that I have been on this journey with him.”
Asked what it means to be on scholarship for his final semester of college, Miller said, “It means a lot. It makes it that much more special. Coming from where I’m from, it just don’t happen. People at home, they’re just as good as you. It just don’t happen often. For it to happen to me, you put the work in — whatever you put into it, you’re going to get out."
Miller credited his teammates for helping him persevere, particularly through trials such as the heatstroke death last year of Jordan McNair.
“We keep each other going,” he said. “From back to last summer with Jordan, especially with that situation. Losing our brother, we got no choice but to come together now. Who else do we have but each other?
“Coaches, they actually have a job. They can be here one day and gone the next; you never know. The ones that’s actually going to be there with you, helping you through it is going to be your teammates, your brothers.”
Those who know the 6-foot, 246-pound Miller can appreciate the moment, especially his parents and brother.
“I don’t think Bruce ever thought this was coming. None of us thought this was coming,” Gilbert-Johns said. “This has just been a struggle for him. This is his passion. This is all he’s ever wanted. He never really had a chance to prove himself to anyone. He works hard until he gets what he wants."
Said B’Ahmad Miller, a 6-foot-2, 286-pound defensive end: “I’m still shocked about it now, matter of fact. He’s been working his whole life for this. People don’t even know that. We sat up nights until early morning talking about this, praying about this. I’m just so blessed that it could come true for him and for me. He’s had a big impact on my life.”
Since getting hired last December, Locksley saw how the role Miller played off the field was much larger than the one on the field, where he appeared in two games last season on special teams. With a few scholarships being freed up by a couple of transfers and players who left because of injuries, Locksley used it as an opportunity to reward the player Miller’s teammates enthusiastically call “Bruuuuuuce’’ as if he were some rock-and-roll icon.
“He’s a guy in our program that works hard. Walk-ons are the lifeblood of your program,” Locksley said after Saturday’s scrimmage. “They’re the guys that don’t get a lot of notoriety. They do their jobs, they help us and prepare us as we get ready to play opponents. Him being a veteran guy that takes care of his business off the field, he’s a good student, he’s been a good leader in the locker room, a guy that’s really well-respected by his peers.”
B’Ahmad Miller, who played his senior year of high school at St. Frances, said that he has always looked up to his older brother. Because they were often the same size and usually together, many mistook him for his twin. He said the rest of the Terps can use the moment as motivation for the season.
“It’s been through so much adversity, been down so many times, but he just grinds," the younger Miller said. "He just keeps his head up and prays about everything. That’s really all you can do, man. It just shows us that anything is possible. Just having him in front of everybody and being a leader and just working every day, not giving up on your dream. It can take us a long way.”