AMHERST — Graduate transfers from Power 5 conferences can help satisfy any program’s immediate needs, and UMass football has a lot of them.
Minutemen first-year coach Walt Bell took over a team with eight returning starters, a turnover rate that is among the highest in the FBS. Filling two huge vacancies on a short-term basis on defense are 6-foot-2, 225-pound “Mike” linebacker Jarvis Miller (Penn State) and 5-11, 185-pound cover corner Jordan Adams (West Virginia).
“Jarvis Miller is an incredible kid, high-character kid and probably one of the most mature kids on the team in terms of leadership,” said Bell following practice Wednesday at McGuirk Alumni Stadium.
“Jordan is still figuring things out not having the spring. I think for us we had some huge positional needs and depth at linebacker, we had only five healthy linebackers today so thank goodness Jarvis was here.”
Miller played running back and safety for Suffield (Conn.) High School, but was recruited by Penn State to play in the defensive backfield.
When the Nittany Lions were hit with a sequence of injuries at linebacker before the 2016 Rose Bowl, Miller, being the oversized player in the secondary, was converted to “Sam” linebacker. When the transformation became permanent, Miller discovered why Penn State is known as Linebacker-U.
“At the time I was the biggest safety so for depth issues I was assigned to linebacker and that was my first time playing it,” Miller said. “It took me a little bit to get through the learning curve but of course, Penn State is Linebacker-U so playing linebacker at Penn State holds a certain standard.”
Miller immersed himself in linebacker logic and enjoyed playing the position, but that didn’t translate into a lot of snaps with the Lions defense. Miller appeared in 33 games from 2016-18 and recorded 23 tackles, two tackles for a loss, one sack and a fumble recovery. With one year of eligibility remaining and the prospect of more pine time in Happy Valley, Miller brought his game to Amherst intent on playing linebacker while earning a master’s degree in learning, media & technology.
“Being in the heart of the defense you have to make the calls and do your job at the same time,” Miller said. “But it is different because I have never played true Mike linebacker before but being versatile is a blessing.
“I have been inside since I’ve been here but I can play all three positions. Being at Penn State around all those great linebackers and I watched a lot of film so making the transition from outside to inside hasn’t been too hard.’
Adams satisfied most the requirements to play at the highest FBS level after starting three years as a receiver and cornerback at Franklin High School in Reisterstown, Md.
Adams redshirted his first year but never was able to find a place in the Mountaineers secondary over the next three seasons in the pass-crazy Big 12.
Adams appeared in nine games last season and recorded seven tackles, one for a loss. He wasn’t up for more of the same and his options were further limited when West Virginia hired Neal Brown to replace Dana Holgorsen as coach.
UMass has provided Adams an opportunity to fill an important position, play a challenging independent schedule and, like Miller, secure a master’s in learning, media & technology.
“I just decided it was time to move on and I appreciate the opportunity coach Bell has given me,” Adams said. “I had been there for four years and in those four years I gave it my all, I gave it 100 percent, so why not try someplace else.
“I left there on the best of terms, I don’t believe in burning bridges.”