North Xtra: Mars grad helps Slippery Rock to NCAA playoffs


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Austin Miele keeps his pregame routine simple ... there's no slamming his helmet-protected head against a locker, no yelling, no screaming, no chest-bumping.

He only listens to music to get ready to take the football field. His adrenaline-inducing artist of choice? Metallica? Guns N' Roses? Drowning Pool?

"Katy Perry," he said, with a laugh, of the pop-music chanteuse possibly better suited for coffee houses than locker rooms.

"Before the game -- and I get crap about it from everyone -- I listen to Katy Perry to get psyched up. That's the only thing I have to do before I go out ... listen to Katy Perry. And I get a lot of crap for that."

Though he may not be making the money that his popular diva is making, he has been delivering plenty of his own hits. As a safety at Slippery Rock, Miele is the leading tackler for a defense that is headed to the NCAA Division II playoffs.

A 6-foot, 200-pound junior from Middlesex Township, Miele has a team-high 83 tackles in 11 games with 44 solo stops, 8 tackles for losses and 1 interception. His 7.5 tackles per game ranks in the top 20 in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. He also was named first-team All-PSAC West Tuesday.

"He's a safety but in certain defensive personnel groups we actually play him down and he plays like an outside linebacker and that's what we like about him," Rock coach George Mihalik said. "He's big enough, physical enough to be that linebacker and athletic enough to stay at safety. He's kind of a hybrid, he has a little bit of both."

As good as Miele is on defense, he was arguably even better on offense coming out of Mars Area High School.

A fullback in the Planets wing-T offense, Miele was the first back in school history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in three seasons, finishing with a school-record 4,168 yards with 46 touchdowns.

As a senior in 2010 he set a WPIAL playoff record when he rushed for 448 yards on 29 carries in a 52-20 victory against Hollidaysburg. He was just 7 yards shy of the overall single-game mark for rushing yards in a game.

For his efforts, Miele landed a spot on the Post-Gazette's Fabulous 22 team and was a first-team All-Greater Allegheny Conference running back and a second-team selection at linebacker.

Never, however, did he envision his future on defense.

"In high school I honestly wasn't that big of a fan of defense," he said. "Going into my senior year, I knew I had to focus more on defense because the college recruiters were saying I was probably going to be a safety.

"But at first, no, I didn't really like defense. When I was thinking of being a football player, I always thought of running the ball but that opportunity never came in college."

Miele initially accepted a full scholarship to play football at Division I-AA Saint Francis and played in 10 games his freshman season. He led the Red Flash with three interceptions and was third in tackles with 77, but decided Loretto, Pa., just wasn't the place for him.

"Football-wise, the program was on the rise. They were definitely turning it around. The school in itself, it had the major [physical therapy] I wanted, but it didn't have the atmosphere, it didn't have the social life, everything that I expected there to be going into college. They gave me a big scholarship so I knew I had to give it a try."

After giving it a try, Miele decided that Slippery Rock was a much better fit and was hoping Mihalik was still interested.

"Definitely," Mihalik said. "We always look for players who can come here and have a great career and we had our eye on Austin. He decided to take a different route but when he called there was never a doubt ... yep, let's get him here."

In his first season at the Rock, Miele played in nine games and finished with 24 tackles and two interceptions. This year, however, he is much more familiar with the defense and knows his role much better.

His experience as a running back, he said, has really helped him to adjust to a relatively new position at strong safety.

"I think it's helped me a lot," Miele said. "They play me at strong safety most of the time here so when I roll down as a safety and they bring me in the box it definitely helps me. It's pretty much like being a running back -- I have to read the hole and see which way they're going to come through so I'm reading the hole as he's reading the hole on the other side and that helps me hit the hole just as hard as he is when he comes through.

"My running back skills have definitely transferred over into being a good safety."

Miele and his Slippery Rock teammates have at least one more game this season.

The Rock won the PSAC West title in the regular season but lost Saturday to Bloomsburg, 42-38, in the PSAC championship game. On Sunday, Slippery Rock received an at-large bid to compete in the Division II tournament, its first invitation since 1999.

Slippery Rock (9-2), the No. 5 seed in the six-team NCAA Super Region 1 field, travels to South Carolina to take on fourth-seeded Winston-Salem State (9-1) in a first-round matchup. Kickoff is 1 p.m.

And Miele's plans for his senior season next year?

"Hopefully we'll have the same success as this year," he said. "We have a lot of young guys in our secondary behind me who are definitely going to push me to get better over the offseason. Our coach says every week that nobody has a set position. Whoever makes plays in practice is going to get playing time.

"As a team, we're losing a lot of seniors so my class is definitely going to have to step up. Hopefully we can mimic the success we had this year."

That would be music to Mihalik's ears.


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