Miles leads UM secondary

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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Massachusetts football coach Don Brown – the leader of the consistently strongest defense in the conference – often classifies his defense as opportunistic.

Perhaps no player on his team is more emblematic of that than Jeromy Miles, the starting free safety for the Minutemen.

Miles transferred to UMass after one year at Navy, a season that ended with the ECAC Freshman of the Year award and a Sporting News Honorable Mention Freshman All-American nomination.

UMass was a great fit for Miles, as they lost defensive back standouts James Ihedigbo to last year’s National Championship runner-up squad and Shannon James the year before.

He’s fit into Brown’s high-pressure and aggressive defense right away, starting all but one game for UMass (8-2, 6-1 Colonial Athletic Association). He’s helped this year’s defense sustain the success that they had with James and Ihedigbo, and he did it right away.

In just his second game Miles terrorized Colgate’s offense, recording three tackles, one pass breakup and two forced fumbles. It was a game that foreshadowed what was to come from the 6-foot-2, 207-pound sophomore.

“I just play hard every snap and I guess it’s just the work ethic,” Miles said, regarding how he always seems to be where the ball is. “I think I just naturally put myself into those situations, its nothing special, I just find a way I guess.”

Miles has found the ball many times this year, with four forced fumbles, two fumbles recovered and an interception. And when he can’t get the ball himself, he makes sure the opposing receivers don’t either. His nine pass deflections rank him tied (with teammate Sean Smalls) for second in the CAA.

Almost half of those deflections came in one game, the four overtime thriller against Villanova played at McGuirk Stadium on Oct. 13. He saved three of those for the best possible time, with one coming in regulation.

His deflection in the first overtime came in the end zone and deflected right into the hands of linebacker Jason Hatchell for the interception – giving the Minutemen a chance to win with just a field goal. But running back Matt Lawrence fumbled a few plays later to prolong the game.

But his most pivotal play came in the fourth overtime; with the Wildcats desperately needing a touchdown. Trailing 32-24, Villanova quarterback Chris Whitney dropped back on fourth-and-goal at the 7-yard line with time and had receiver Anton Ridley in the back of the end zone.

At first it appeared that the game could be headed for a fifth overtime, but Miles came in and got his hands in there, forcing the ball through the hands of Ridley – preserving the victory for UMass. Miles was named UMass/Dinn Brothers co-Athlete of the Week for his efforts.

With his big-time plays and work ethic, coach Brown considers Miles to be somewhat of a leader to his core of defensive backs. But Miles says he looks up to the other guys.

“I think people look up to me for some of my positive characteristics, like my work ethic,” Miles said. “But for me I look up to the other guys like Sean Smalls and Mike Meggett for leadership.”

Miles made a name for himself at UMass in the big games against Colgate and Villanova, but he’s been a steady force for the defense the entire season. He’s helped out against the run, registering 51 tackles, which ranks sixth on the team. He had a big part in shutting down New Hampshire star quarterback Ricky Santos last week in the convincing 27-7 victory, recording eight tackles.

He set the tone for the defense in the passing game, as well, intercepting Santos in the end zone on the first possession of the game. Miles went up in the air on that play, and came down battling a UNH receiver for the football. After the officials gathered to discuss the play for a minute, they determined that Miles and the Minutemen had possession.

Despite his quick success this season, Miles insists that things weren’t so easy for him and the defense at the start of the season.

“We have a pretty young secondary, so we just have to find our niche and just get it together and stay on the same page,” he said. “That was something we struggled with at the beginning, but now starting to come together at the end of the season.”

It’s come together quite well for Miles and the Minutemen, as Brown’s defense leads the conference in scoring defense – allowing 17.5 points per game.

Miles is just one of many opportunistic players on the defense, but he’s been the leader of the secondary.

Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at [email protected]