Do It For Rest Of Us, Rontez

Rontez Miles from nearby California University of Pa. hasn't let bad luck -- or his Steelers tattoo -- stop his quest of ending up in the NFL. Here's his story from the NFL Combine:

I couldn't help but think about my own life when I heard analyst Rich Eisen making fun of Rontez Miles's Steelers tattoo on TV.

If you watched the NFL Combine – in particular the DB portion of the week-long extravaganza – you couldn't help but notice the kid with the Steelers logo tattooed on his left shoulder.

I mean, it's carved with such dark, rich ink, and so very prominent, that it must've looked like purple neon in the middle of a church to the 31 general managers not from Pittsburgh who showed up in Indianapolis to sort through the newest batch of job applicants.

As I heard Eisen and Mike Mayock squeal with laughter over what it would be like to walk through, say, the Ravens' locker room with that tattoo, I could hear my old boss asking me some 25 years ago, "Why do you have to do everything the wrong way? Why do you have to make things so difficult for yourself?"

I can't even remember what it was about, whether it was the time I called the president of the WPIAL a cheating liar, or the time I told a school board member that fans don't go to football games to see his marching band, or whether I was standing up to some big-mouthed bully in the media, but I'm sure that what I was doing was very wrong.

Eh, for better or worse. But it seemed like a good idea at the time, didn't it Rontez?

"Hey, I'm a die-hard. I couldn't help it," said Miles. "I was born and raised on the Steelers. I mean, I played on their field for our high school championship."

Miles was born in Braddock to a father who had another baby born at the same time to another mother. Daddy left the two boys to grow up and fend for themselves in a drug-infested neighborhood, and they ended up at Woodland Hills High School playing with Rob Gronkowski, among others. Rontez was the hard-hitting defensive back. His brother Vondre Griffn was the quarterback.

After their senior season ended with an upset loss to the University of North Allegheny, Rontez could've opted to join Gronkowski in the desert, only at Arizona State instead of Arizona.

That would've been the smart move, the easy move. But Rontez doesn't do things the easy way.

Instead he stayed with his brother, and they both went to Kent State.

Rontez couldn't play right away because of his grades, so he took online courses. His brother redshirted. But the next year, after Vondre was caught driving a car in which someone else had marijuana, Kent State called the two boys in for a talk.

"We sat right beside each other and they asked him to leave and they asked me to stay," Miles said. "And I told them no."

So they both headed for California University of Pa., a Division II school. But since Vondre still had financial issues with Kent, he had to attend a community college. Rontez, meanwhile, stepped right into the starting lineup, and he didn't come out.

No, there hasn't been a happy ending; at least not yet.

Last summer, just before the start of his senior season, Rontez received the worst phone call of his life. His brother had been charged with homicide after a night at a bar in McKeesport.

"It's a self-defense case," said Miles, who believes the story that three men had accosted his brother. He believes his brother will eventually be exonerated, but of course it weighs on him.

"It's a hard situation," Miles said. "I've been with him since we were 2, 3 years old. We've been side by side. His life changed, but it's given me a bigger chip and more drive. I've got to stay focused and keep driving forward."

While his decisions have been made earnestly, with righteousness and loyalty in mind, Miles no doubt does things the hard way. But those decisions haven't made his future impossible because he has been noticed.

After a second consecutive Defensive Player of the Year award in the PSAC West Conference, Miles was named to the Texas vs. The Nation All-Star game. There he talked to Steelers scouts, who told him that "if I practice like that all the time, I should have no problem being in the NFL." Miles practiced so well he was named a starter. And in the game he made three tackles – one a tackle for loss and another forced a fumble – and he also had an interception.

The interception was the key play of the game for Miles's team. With a 4-point lead, the other all-star team was driving, but the interception and subsequent 50-yard return set up the game's final touchdown. He later forced the fumble a play before his quarterback took a knee.

"I wouldn't say that game was my biggest moment," Miles said, "but I would say it's one of my favorites. It showed everybody I could play. It was one of my favorite weeks of college football, just the fact I got to be next to Jawanza Sterling from USC and the guy from Kentucky and Jordan Kovacs from Michigan. I was lining up with D-1 players and I actually got to start that game and played pretty well."

He played so well he was invited to the NFL Combine.

"He's a talented kid," Mayock told viewers before the tattoo engulfed the conversation. "If you make it here from Cal Pa., it means the scouts have noticed you. And he's got great size and movement skills, which is why he's here."

Miles checked in at 5-11 5/8, 203, and only four of the other 59 defensive backs had longer arms than Miles' (32 7/8-inches) and only three had bigger hands than his (10¼-inches). Miles ran his 40s in 4.6 and 4.62, the 3-cone in 6.97, and the 20-shuttle in 4.27. His vertical jump was 36.5 inches and his broad jump was 10-3.

All of those times and measurements rank well above average, or better than anything current Pro Bowler Ryan Clark had posted while coming out of LSU as an undrafted safety. Miles, though, will be drafted, at least that's what he's being led to believe after meeting for a third time with the Steelers.

"I always knew I was going to do it," he said. "I know I have NFL talent, like I knew I was a D-1 athlete as well. I've just had bad luck in my life. But I'm determined to show everybody I can do even more than this."

Do it, Rontez. Do it for all of those – all of us – who refuse to do things the easy way.

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