PG North: A tennis ace as a youngster, Fox Chapels' Dieffenbach has new 'racket'
Fox Chapel lineman Miles Dieffenbach, left, works on his technique during a training camp practice session.
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Miles Dieffenbach grew up with the sport of tennis; it's just that, eventually, he all but grew out of it.
It's not that Dieffenbach, a senior at Fox Chapel Area High School whose father is the Pitt women's tennis team's head coach, gave up on tennis -- indeed, he still plays for fun on a regular basis.
It's just that, at 6 feet 4, 285 pounds, Dieffenbach's God-given attributes and talents could be better put to use in a different arena.
Enter football, which he picked up in the second grade and became serious about by junior high school, giving up competitive tennis as a concession to his dedication to becoming the best offensive and defensive lineman he could.
That potential is being tapped in the name of a scholarship to play at Penn State and the recognition of being one of the WPIAL's top linemen.
"Tennis was definitely a big part of my life," Dieffenbach said. "I started playing when I was about 2 years old and played probably five or six days a week in the summer, always going to see my dad where he worked.
"I remember going to my dad saying I wanted to play football. He definitely was open to it and signed me up. I've loved it ever since."
Dieffenbach is a guard on offense -- the side of the ball he will play in college -- and a nose guard on defense for the Foxes, who made their first WPIAL playoff appearance in six years last season.
He was one of the most heavily recruited linemen in the WPIAL, with several Division I-A schools after him.
And he has much to owe for his dominance at such a hulking position to ... tennis?
"Playing tennis has meant he has great feet, and I think the biggest thing is now that he's maturing as an athlete, he's got better control of his body and better balance," Foxes coach Bryan Deal said. "That all comes from tennis."
Dieffenbach still plays tennis regularly, particularly during the summer months. Still, don't confuse his affinity for his "family sport" with lack of total utter commitment to football.
"He's always had a great passion for football," Deal said. "All the great ones do, and that's what it takes to make it to be an offensive lineman at the next level; you've got to have passion for it, and he does. He enjoys every aspect of football, from the weight room to running to just naturally being on the field."
As a senior this season, Dieffenbach is prepared to embrace even more of a leadership role on a team that snapped a string of five consecutive last-place finishes to qualify for the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs last season.
Dieffenbach's college decision raised some eyebrows, what with his father a somewhat high-profile Pitt employee and the son choosing a school Pitt views as a bitter rival.
But Deal complimented Dieffenbach on the thoroughness of his college selection process, saying he visited about a dozen different schools.
"It was pretty much down to Pitt, Penn State and Florida State," Dieffenbach said. "I love Pitt and have been around Pitt all my life. I'll still root for Pitt and love Pitt, but Penn State was just better for me and where I'd have the greatest success.
"I really liked the coaches up there, the facilities, I love the people. It's close enough to home I can get there in two hours but far enough away that I can grow up and be an adult. I can't wait; words can't express how excited I am.
"I'm not saying I am not looking forward to my senior year [of high school], because I am. But I just can't wait to be up there in that atmosphere."
By all indications, the feeling in Happy Valley is mutual -- the Nittany Lions can't wait to bring Dieffenbach into the fold.
Deal was asked if he believed Dieffenbach could excel at the Big Ten level.
"Yeah, I wholeheartedly do," Deal said. "Can he go in there and start today? No. But he doesn't need to. There's a whole 'nother year before he reports to college. If he improves this year to next year as much as he did last year to this year, Penn State's got a very good, solid football player.
"I'm excited for him and his future."
First Published August 27, 2009 12:00 am