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Cal (Pa.) safety hopes to overcome odds facing small-college players to make it in NFL

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California (Pa.) safety Rontez Miles is one of the top Division II players in the country. (Courtesy of Califonia (Pa.) University)

Rontez Miles

School: California (Pa.)

Position: Safety

Hometown: Braddock

High school: Woodland Hills

Notable: A transfer from Kent State, where he never played, Miles was a four-year starter for the Vulcans, earning Division II All-American and PSAC Defensive Player of the Year honors the past two seasons. In 2012, Miles had 75 tackles and four interceptions.

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Tuesday, March 5, 2013, 11:44 p.m.
 

Of the 332 NFL Scouting Combine participants, 11 came from Division II and NAIA programs, the so-called small schools. The good news for these athletes is that they were a select few. The bad news is most are considered long shots to get drafted, much less make a club's roster.

But California (Pa.) safety Rontez Miles, who has beaten steep odds before, is betting on himself.

“I'm gonna be a good pick regardless of where I go (in the draft),” he said.

If Miles fulfills his prediction, he would be the 11th player from Woodland Hills to wear an NFL uniform. The two-time D-II All-American and PSAC Defensive Player of the Year returned from Indianapolis last week “very pleased” with his audition.

“I couldn't do nothing but increase my stock,” he said. “I wanted to run a better (40-yard dash), but as far as everything else, I was happy. I really enjoyed it. A lot of teams got to know the real me. I feel like I did everything I could do to the best of my ability.”

Miles was clocked at 4.62 seconds in the 40 (he will have a chance to improve at his pro day), but scouts are just as interested in learning about the “real” Miles, his background and character, Woodland Hills coach George Novak said.

“I tell them that he's a great kid,” Novak said. “He's had a tough life. If he can get through everything he's been through, he can get through anything.”

It has been a long, steep climb for Miles, who grew up in Braddock frequently moving and often living with friends and relatives as his mother battled drug problems, he said. His father was not around.

Recruited by several big-name programs, Miles accompanied his brother, Vondre Griffin, a quarterback at Woodland Hills, to Kent State. Academic problems and legal issues led to Griffin's departure, and Miles left, too. Neither played a snap. Miles attended junior college to get his grades in order, worked in a warehouse and sat out two full seasons before landing at Cal.

The father of two 3-year-olds born seven months apart, Miles graduated from Cal in March. Meanwhile, Griffin sits in the Allegheny County Jail awaiting trial in May on charges of homicide and carrying a firearm without a license. He is accused of the August shooting of a man during an altercation outside a McKeesport bar.

According to his lawyer, Wendy Williams, Griffin was defending himself and another person, who was being beaten. Miles said his brother was jumped by at least three people, his life endangered.

“There were a lot of repeated questions, a lot of in-depth questions I had to answer,” said Miles, whose younger brother, Harry Randall, stars at Woodland Hills.

“Anybody in that situation would have reacted the same way. People see ‘murder,' and they think gangster or thug. That's not my brother. He's a good person.”

At 6-foot, 203 pounds, Miles is an aggressive, run-stopping safety with “ball-hawking” skills, said Cal secondary coach David Cole, who offered Troy Polamalu's name as a stylistic comparison.

“He's a very intelligent man, on and off the field, a very confident young man,” Cole said. “A likeable kid, a coachable kid.”

But Cole said he is even more impressed with Miles' accomplishments off the field.

“I've seen him grow from an immature young man from Braddock to a mature young man who graduated and helps take care of his family,” Cole said. “For what he went through and for where he's going, it's a blessing.”

Miles, who sports a Steelers' tattoo on his shoulder, describes himself as “way more than a football player.” But football is the priority right now. A projected late-round pick, Miles acknowledged that the presumed stigma against small-school players provides incentive. He said any doubt about competing with the big boys was dispelled by a strong performance in the Texas vs. The Nation all-star game last month.

“I belong,” he said. “This is what I do.”

Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bcohn@tribweb.com or via Twitter@BCohn_Trib.

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