Ben Dupree was on the sidelines in street clothes for a recent Citadel spring practice. Aaron Miller was on the field, running the Bulldogs' offense.
It was a stark reminder that it's a new era in Citadel football in more ways than one. The Bulldogs will have a new coach, Mike Houston, and a new starting quarterback when they line up for their 2014 season opener Aug. 30 against Coastal Carolina.
Dupree was the Bulldogs' starting quarterback for the last three years, finishing second in school history with 36 rushing touchdowns. Miller played plenty of snaps as Dupree's backup, but has never started a game in his career.
By all accounts, Miller is ready for his turn.
"No doubt about it, and I would be too if I was him," said Houston, who tried to recruit the 6-0, 220-pound Miller when he was the coach at Lenoir-Rhyne. "You always tell kids, work hard and you will get your turn. Well, he's done that and now it's his turn. I firmly believe he will take advantage of it."
Houston says all starting jobs are up for grabs, and Miller is competing with redshirt freshman Cam Jackson at quarterback. But, barring injury, Miller will be the starter next season and likely won't be sharing the job as he did with Dupree.
"We probably won't be interchanging quarterbacks if we can help it," said new offensive coordinator Brent Thompson. "That means Aaron's going to have to develop into an every-down player instead of a guy who's coming in just to change things up."
Miller, a rising senior from Clover High School, is not the type to make grand pronouncements like, "It's my team now." But his coaches say he's already leading the Bulldogs.
"I think he's doing a great job of being composed and being a leader on offense," Houston said after the first week of spring drills. "I just think he's got a good head on him and he had a really good day."
Said Miller, "I don't look at it like it's my turn. I look at it as my opportunity to lead the team. Ben and I split time for three years, and we were both leaders on and off the field. This is just another opportunity, only I might get to play more snaps."
During three seasons as a backup, Miller has rushed for 772 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging 3.6 yards per carry. He's also hit 81 of 164 passes for 1,038 yards and three touchdowns with eight interceptions. He won't be the home-run hitter that the shifty Dupree was, but is also more likely to run over a cornerback or safety and has a stronger arm.
"Having a pre-existing relationship with Aaron, we knew what we were getting, which is a good player," said Thompson, who was Houston's offensive coordinator at Lenoir-Rhyne. "But they've also done a good job of developing him as a quarterback since he's been here. The one thing I didn't know is that he has such good leadership qualities. He can run the huddle, he can run the offense, and they listen to him."
Though the basics of the triple-option offense remain the same, Miller will have to learn to run Thompson's no-huddle system - which produced an NCAA record 5,563 rushing yards last season at Lenoir-Rhyne - and to operate at a faster pace.
"We're going to ask him to play faster, and I don't mean necessarily a hurry-up tempo," Houston said. "I mean faster in his operational mechanics, faster out of the mesh, faster to the line of scrimmage to put pressure on the defense, faster with his decisions to deal the ball or keep it.
"We want to put pressure on the defense to make quick decisions, and hopefully force them into a mistake."
For his part, Miller admits he was relieved when he learned who his new coaches would be.
"Nobody wants to go through coaching staff changes, especially before your senior year," he said. "But it helped that I knew their background, that I knew they were honest and bring a lot of energy to the table.
"I really like Coach Houston's quote: 'Champions don't do extraordinary things, they do the ordinary things better than anybody else.' We've got to live by that."
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