Several times each year, early in the morning before the sun rises over Byrd Stadium, the Maryland football team holds open tryouts. They vet the prospects beforehand, weeding out the unhealthy, or academically ineligible, or those who signed up because they lost a bet. Skill-position players turn out most often, because in Coach Randy Edsall’s experience students who possess the size to play offensive or defensive line don’t normally roll out of bed to sprint and work out at 6 a.m.
Those who advance past the tryout phase and complete the necessary paperwork are awarded walk-on spots, with most relegated to the scout team. Many college teams do this. You can never have enough bodies.
But every so often Maryland uncovers a gem, maybe not an on-field contributor, but an incredible story nonetheless. Tehuti Miles, the Terps’ latest walk-on addition, is one of those players.
According to his Facebook profile, Miles graduated from New Jersey’s Hammonton High School in 2008, making him one of Maryland’s oldest players. He also happens to have served in the U.S. Army as a specialist in Afghanistan.
Three summers ago, the New York Daily News spent a night’s watch with Miles in Walakan, an Afghan village near the country’s southeastern tip. He was 19 years old at the time, on guard for three hours with an M4 in his lap and home on his mind. Here’s writer James Gordon Meek:
This walled patrol outpost of four tents on a half-acre plot is home to a scout platoon from the 1-71 Cavalry of the Fort Drum-based 10th Mountain Division.
It’s wedged between fields of corn, grapes – which Alexander the Great turned into wine – and cannabis.
They’ve been here only four months but have lost five wounded and two platoon members killed. Several other G.I.s from their squadron were killed as they patrolled alongside them.
All were victims of IEDs. Some were on the roads; others were pressure-plate bombs targeting foot patrols.
When the night watch gets boring, Miles thinks about his dance-instructor mom, Karen, and their trips to the Apollo Theater.
Edsall said Thursday that Miles will be a wide receiver/running back/defensive back hybrid, and will wear No. 85. In all likelihood, he will never play in a college football game. Not that it matters. His impact, on the practice field and in the meeting room, should extend far beyond football.
“He’s a good kid,” Edsall said.