As far as inspirational inner city-to-the-NFL stories go, Shareef Miller’s meets all the typical criteria.
He’s from a rough neighborhood, was raised in a single-parent household and suffered unfathomable loss at the hands of violence. As inspirational as his story is, it’s not all that uncommon in the NFL. He’s not even the only player in the Eagles’ locker room with a similar backstory.
This difference is that Miller is from here. He’s ours.
And now, after getting drafted by the Eagles — a moment he said was “surreal” — he feels an obligation to not just produce on the football field, but to also be an inspiration to kids who grew up where he grew up and who face the same struggles daily that he was able to overcome.
“That’s really going to help my community,” Miller said on Saturday. “It’s really going to change a lot of things. It’s going to give these kids someone to look up to. That’s what it’s all about. I’m happy I’ve been put in this situation so I can shed light on the younger kids coming up in this generation.”
Miller, whom the Eagles drafted with the last pick in the fourth round on Friday, grew up in the Frankford section of the city. He went to Frankford High before transferring to George Washington High, a decision orchestrated by his mother that he said “changed his life.”
But just before he went to Penn State, Miller’s older brother, Mikal, was shot and killed in 2015. The loss of his role model hit Miller hard. Hard enough that he even considered not going to Penn State. But his mother, Tekeya Cook, has been his rock. According to Miller, she kept him level-headed and pointed in the right direction.
Mom is such a rock that during their celebration on Saturday — Miller and his family rented a loft in northeast Philly to watch the draft — she told her son that it’s now time to get to work.
Miller will be on the field at the NovaCare Complex soon enough for rookie minicamp and then OTAs, but his work as a role model is already well underway. First, kids from his old neighborhood saw him go to a Division I school, but now they’re going to see him play in the NFL about 15 minutes away from their homes.
Miller isn’t taking his role as an inspiration and mentor to local kids lightly.
I’m definitely excited for this role because I’m all about these young kids in the inner city. A lot of times in our city, the opportunity is small and a lot of us don’t have anyone to look up to and we don’t have any hope. That’s why it’s easy for kids in the inner city to [turn to] violence. Now they have me – someone who came from where they came from.
What more can they ask for? I’m going to be that voice for them and, you know, when I get myself together and situated, I’m definitely going to go back in my community and do whatever I can to help these kids reach their full potential. Go to school, get a great education, go to college and live out that dream. Whether it’s the NFL, NBA or whatever they want to be.
It can be tough for a professional athlete to play in their home city. There’s extra pressure and there’s a natural trap of falling in with the wrong people. A few years ago, when I profiled Brandon Graham, he told me one of the biggest realizations in his life was that when he went back to Detroit, he just couldn’t hang out with the same people like he used to. It’s tough, but he had to cut some destructive people out of his life.
That might not be easy for Miller, who is just 22. But that process already started when he transferred high schools many years ago. He said he has a small group of people in his support system, people who want the best for him.
Miller doesn’t think playing in his hometown will be a distraction. If anything, he sees it as a huge positive. There are a bunch of kids who are growing up just like him who will likely agree.
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