Division-II free safety Miles endures tough journey through football with brother

Courtesy of California Sports Information

Rontez Miles has overcome a tough upbringing in Braddock, Pa., and excelled at Division-II California University of Pennsylvania. Miles, an All-American safety, is considered an NFL prospect.

Every muscle of Rontez Miles’ 6-foot-1-inch, 210-pound body is the product of a hometown and childhood littered with drugs, violence and betrayal.

He is also a consensus All-American free safety at Division-II California University of Pennsylvania, an NFL prospect, a brother and a father.

“All we ever had in Braddock was football, you know, so, that was one thing that they’ll never take from me,” said Miles, a senior. “Where I’m from made me who I am today, basically.”

Miles moved frequently with his mother when he was young as she struggled with drugs. Too often he was the new kid in whichever neighborhood he called home at the time. She’s better now, and so is he, but in those days Miles was often jumped.

“Coming up the way I did, I didn’t trust,” Miles said. “I just couldn’t look at nobody as a trustworthy person.”

Vondre Griffin was the lone exception. Miles and Griffin were born two months apart after Miles said his father had an affair with Griffin’s mother. The two mothers had their differences, but they never separated the boys. Miles and Griffin stayed close from Pee Wee football through high school in Pennsylvania.

They planned to get out together.

Miles and Griffin were widely recruited college prospects. But only Miles received offers from BCS programs like Colorado, West Virginia and Pittsburgh.

He instead opted to play with his brother at Kent State.

“When we went to Kent we both had somebody to lean on,” Miles said. “One of the main reasons why I wanted to go to school with him was we could both get out of the situation together, why not take that chance? You know, so it was like, that was really a key part in my life and they messed it up.”

In spring 2008, then-head coach Doug Martin called Miles and Griffin, then redshirting, down to his office, Miles said. Martin told Griffin he was off the team.

Martin asked Miles, who was taking classes to become eligible under the NCAA’s Proposition 48, to stay.

Miles refused.

“I looked at my brother and I told him I was leaving as well. And (Martin) flipped out and said we wouldn’t be nothing if we left,” Miles said. “We’d be in trouble if we went back to where we’re from, basically saying we had nothing going for us if we left.”

Martin said he did not recall the meeting, but the decision to kick him off the team was largely based on Griffin’s poor academic standing.

When Miles and Griffin left Martin’s office, Miles had a plan. He’d been texting his cousin Terrence Johnson for months. Johnson was a cornerback at California University of Pennsylvania who grew up with Miles.

Then-head coach John Luckhardt recruited Miles out of high school.

“I was already kind of impressed and I remember coach Luckhardt always saying no matter what happens in the future, if I ever wanted to be a Vulcan I could be a Vulcan,” Miles said.

Miles and Griffin could still play football together.

They spent the 2008-09 school year working at an American Freight warehouse in Pittsburgh and taking classes at the Community College of Allegheny County. Griffin earned the 24 credits required to transfer to Cal.

But Griffin couldn’t get his transcript. When Miles and Griffin went to enroll, they learned Griffin owed Kent State about $17,000. The dream of playing football together disappeared.

Miles transferred smoothly. He hadn’t played a competitive down since 2007. No one noticed.

“It was like I picked right back up from where I left off at,” Miles said “And what was crazy is everyone else was excited about it, but I knew that I wasn’t where I was supposed to be yet.”

During summer 2010, Miles worked out with Johnson almost every day. They’d spent the fall closing down the right side of the Vulcans defense with Miles playing linebacker.

“I would just tell him ‘Look Rontez, when we’re out here, I don’t care what anyone else is doing on the field, we got to hold it down. Like everything, no passes, no running, no nothing on that side of the field. That’s how it has to be,’” Johnson said. “And then he picked up, his mentality was just like, no one could mess with us.”

Miles won conference freshman of the year and second team All-Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference.

On Aug. 5 at about 3 a.m., Griffin was arrested after police determined he was a murder suspect, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. Griffin was defending himself, according to Miles and testimony made on Griffin’s behalf in Pittsburgh Municipal Court.

Griffin will stand trial for charges of criminal homicide and carrying a firearm without a license in connection with a shooting outside the McKeesport’s Sportsman’s Club, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. He is being held in Allegheny County jail without bail.

One year earlier, Miles got a phone call from Griffin as he prepared to play his natural free safety position for the first time since high school. Griffin’s career was over. While Griffin prepared for his security shift at Wilkinsburg High School, he was crying on the phone with Miles.

Griffin was nervous for Miles. He had goose bumps and he told Miles he felt like he was about to take the field with him. Tears came to Miles’ eyes.

A 14-tackle game followed.

“When I’m out there it’s him or me, and it’s like I’m not letting my brother down, I’m not letting my kids down, I’m not letting my family down,” Miles said. “Like, every tackle is life or death for me.”


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