Many people doubted Miller’s choice to attend the school coming off a 7–6 season. But he never did.
Perhaps Shareef Miller is as good a talent evaluator as he is a football player.
When Miller was in his senior year at George Washington High School, he gained major attention from college football programs.
He was getting looks from top teams that were slated to be among the best in college football, but he picked Penn State, which was coming off a 7–6 season.
Many questioned his decision, but he never had a doubt.
“I knew Penn State was good, I knew I wanted to play for Coach (James) Franklin and the other coaches,” Miller said. “People were asking me why I wanted to go there. Then when we started winning, people were surprised. I never was. I knew.”
Last year, Miller helped the Nittany Lions become one of the most surprising teams in the nation, and they were in the mix to make the College Football Playoff until the final day of the season. In fact, many considered Penn State’s omission from the playoffs a bad decision.
After starting the season with a 2–2 record, the Nittany Lions went on a nine-game winning streak to earn a spot in the Rose Bowl.
There, the Lions fell to the University of Southern California in a 52–49 shootout on New Year’s Day.
The result wasn’t what Miller and his mates wanted, but it was certainly a game he’ll never forget. And neither will the 90,000 people who were in the stands.
“I didn’t think much about the crowd while I was playing, but I’d look around when I wasn’t out there and it was crazy seeing all those people,” said Miller, who is going into his redshirt sophomore year. “When I was playing, it was just like playing (at Northeast High School) in front of 500 people. But it was crazy, the environment was crazy.
“It was the Rose Bowl, the game everyone wants to play in. Losing wasn’t good, but it was a lot of fun to play in that kind of game. And playing in that makes you want to work that much harder to get back and play in that kind of game.”
Miller has been having a great time playing football since he was a kid, but his role on the teams have changed.
The Frankford native got his start playing with the Chargers. He was always a dominant player, but he wasn’t always a dominant defensive end. In fact, that came much later.
“I played everywhere, they moved me around every year,” Miller said. “I started out as a running back, they moved me to tight end, they moved me to wide receiver, I even played offensive line. I didn’t play defensive line until I was 13.
“I was good before, but I got really good when they moved me to defensive line. That’s my position, that’s where I felt most comfortable.”
Last year, Miller felt comfortable and it showed.
In his first season of actually playing, Miller made an impact. He appeared in every game, notching two sacks, five tackles for losses and 22 total stops.
He was selected to the All-Big Ten Freshman Team and comes into his sophomore season as a starter.
While starring at Washington, Miller was one of the most highly recruited players in the city, but that doesn’t mean the transition to playing in the Big Ten was easy. In fact, he’s still getting acclimated.
“College football is a lot like high school football, but the biggest thing is making sure you take care of your assignments,” Miller said. “One player being out of position can be the difference between a stop and a 60-yard touchdown. It’s all the little details that lead to good things and bad things.
“The playbook is huge, too. That was a big adjustment from high school. We didn’t have a big playbook in high school. Here, we have a huge playbook. You don’t just go out and play. Every play matters. I learned a lot in high school, but I’ve learned so much more since getting here.”
Miller is learning his craft while putting in work in the classroom.
Ultimately, his goal is to head to the NFL when his days at Penn State are over. But he’s also eyeing other goals that will help him and others beyond his playing days.
“I want to play in the NFL, but I want to do that so I can start a foundation and help others, kids from Philly, kids who need help,” Miller said. “I want to mentor kids. I had people help me go down the right path, so I want to be there to help kids the same way.
“I was lucky because my family, my mom made sure I did well, she was always on me. She is very happy I’m playing college football. She makes it out to a lot of games. She likes it. She loves being in the stadium with all the people.”
When she goes this year, Miller will make sure mom gets a great show.
“Last year was a great season, and it raises the bar,” Miller said. “I’ve been home a few times, but for most of the summer I’ve been working up here. After last year, we all have big goals for this year. Now people see why I came here.” ••