California (Pa.) safety has a chance at the NFL
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About once a week Vondre Griffin gets 15 minutes to call his half-brother from jail. Griffin won't let Rontez Miles, who is two months older, worry about him.
"He just makes sure I'm OK and he's OK. 'Don't worry about me,' " Miles, 23, said his brother tells him.
Miles and Griffin shared a dream. They would play football together and play it well. Well enough to get away from the streets of Braddock, into college and, as many optimistic 9-year-olds have dreamed, the NFL.
Miles' half of the dream is much closer to reality. He runs riot as a free safety for California (Pa.). Griffin is in Allegheny County jail without bail, waiting to move forward with his trial in connection with a fatal shooting outside Pav's Pub in McKeesport.
Griffin claimed the shooting was in self-defense. No trial date has been set.
Griffin was 9, watching Miles practice for the Swissvale Slashers when he started planning their way out. They'd star in high school, earn college scholarships, then on to the NFL. Miles laughs about it now -- Griffin running around with a high-cheeked smile and their futures figured.
He was mostly right. Both were standouts at Woodland Hills. In 2005, Griffin rushed for two touchdowns, passed for seven, caught one and returned a kickoff and a punt for scores. The punt return came against Connellsville with Miles as Griffin's primary blocker. Nobody touched him.
Miles was destructive in the secondary, teaming up with his cousin Terrence Johnson, who now plays for the Atlanta Falcons.
Griffin and Miles attracted interest from the likes of Pitt and West Virginia. The plan was working.
"Working toward getting into college, making a better life for themselves, using football as a means to get into college helps them do that," Woodland Hills athletic director and football coach George Novak said. He pauses. "Yeah, I was definitely aware of that."
But only Miles received scholarship offers from BCS programs. Griffin's only formal offers came from mid-majors Akron, Temple, Toledo and Kent State. The plan said Griffin and Miles would play out their dream together.
On Jan. 25, 2007, Miles formally rejected Colorado, Pitt and then-No. 6 West Virginia for Kent State.
"It's always been embedded in our head, since we were kids," Miles said. "We both made a plan and we stuck with it."
After a game-less season for Griffin and a Proposition 48, or non-qualifier, year for Miles, the two were called into coach Doug Martin's office. Griffin had struggled with grades and was awaiting a ruling on charges of driving without a license and marijuana possession.
According to Miles, Martin kicked Griffin off the team. Then he asked Miles to stay for the '08-09 season. Miles refused.
"They said 'He's done, we're done with him,' like it was nothing. I didn't trust them with my life, like you could do that to my little brother?" Miles said. "I couldn't, I couldn't trust them. I couldn't do it."
The brothers left for the Community College of Allegheny County where they spent a year taking classes and working at American Freight with an eye toward transferring to Division II California. In fall '09, though, when they went to enroll, Miles said, Griffin discovered he owed Kent State about $17,000 because he was not on full scholarship, preventing him from obtaining his transcripts and transferring.
Miles earned Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (West) freshman of the year and second team all-division honors.
The older brother is a senior now, but at the end of his junior year, when he started getting Facebook friend requests from people representing agents, he asked the California athletic director for advice. He said he was told to ignore the contacts, and did.
But the reality of his half of the dream was sinking in. He might have a future in the pros.
"If he can get into [NFL training] camp he's not going to leave," said Johnson, in his second year in the NFL.
Looking ahead -- past the end of his college career, likely today when the Vulcans play Millersville at home, receiving his family's first college degree next month, the NFL draft or his brother's legal proceedings -- is out of the question for Miles.
But he remembers game days when his brother watched him play or called him from home and cried before he'd explode for breakout games.
And he sees hope for the full dream.
Said Miles: "Anything's possible, I think we can do it. ... We'll see one day."
First Published November 10, 2012 12:00 am