Isn’t it funny how things sometimes work out?
Last year, Shareef Miller helped hand Ron Cohen one of his worst defeats in three decades of coaching; now, the top-notch Division-I recruit has made it his personal goal to return a local legend to glory.
Miller, a 6-foot-5, 225-pound standout defensive end, grew up in Frankford and rose through the neighborhood football ranks, first with the youth-level Frankford Chargers before moving up to the high school Pioneers. He was part of Frankford’s last two Public League championship teams under head coach Will Doggett, and was set to return as the Pioneers’ top player.
But fate has a funny way of stepping in, and it was fate — and a change in neighborhoods — that led Miller to Cohen’s Washington Eagles for his senior season. Switching sides, especially to an ancient archrival, “is a little weird,” Miller admitted, but his family moving close to Grant and the Boulevard predicated a jump to the Eagles, and the highly sought-after college recruit is taking it all in stride.
“I’m from Frankford, so it’s definitely different putting on this uniform,” Miller said before Monday afternoon’s practice. “The transition is going well. It’s new, but exciting. We have a good team here, and we’re ready to go.”
Before Miller and the Eagles open up Friday night against SCH Academy (6 p.m., at Northeast), he was asked to reflect about last year’s title game, a 30-3 drubbing of Washington that was downright embarrassing for the Eagles. That, plus Ryan’s shutout of Washington on Thanksgiving, handed Cohen his first overall losing season at Washington in 29 years.
That, Miller said, won’t happen again, so long as he has anything to do with it.
“The guys are really excited, and I know last year was real disappointing for them,” he said. “Everyone is focused and ready, and we won’t have another losing season. Coach Cohen, he’s a legend, a father figure we can all look up to. He wants to help all the kids, and we want to help him, too.”
Cohen has helped countless Washington players get to college over the years, and four of his kids have ended up playing in the NFL (including 2010 graduate Sharrif Floyd, a defensive lineman like Miller and first-round draft pick in 2013). Nationally, Miller is a top-20 recruit at his position and would have been scooped up by a top-flight Division-I program whether he went to high school at Frankford, Washington or on the moon. But playing for Cohen his senior season certainly won’t hurt, and the coach has already accompanied Miller on visits to Pittsburgh and West Virginia. Temple, Penn State and a plethora of Big Ten and Pacific-12 schools are interested (Miller has around two dozen offers in hand, and said he isn’t likely to make a decision until after his senior season).
Miller is a terrifying end rusher, and his 4.68 40-yard dash allows him to get into the offensive backfield in the blink of an eye. He can sack the quarterback with ease and can be a turnover-generating machine once he breaks through the line.
“He’s a great pass rusher, just a great athlete on the defensive side of the ball,” Cohen said. “He has the capability to make plays that completely change game situations. He’s a very unassuming young man and is by no means a ‘me guy.’ He listens, he’s focused and he’s brought stability and quiet leadership to the team. The kids realize he’s a big-time player and that his presence is going to bring a lot of scouts to our games.”
The Public League itself has re-formatted a bit at the Class AAAA level, splitting into two divisions. Washington, along with Northeast, Lincoln, King, Olney, Roxborough and Franklin, make up the ‘Independence’ Division, while Frankford, Fels, Bartram, Central, Gratz, Mastbaum and Southern comprise the ‘Liberty’ Division. With 14 teams participating at Class AAAA as opposed to last year’s 11, there will certainly be more intrigue attached to who ultimately comes out on top.
For his part, Miller believes that team will be Washington.
“I just want to come here, be a good leader and show guys you need to be willing to work for it,” he said. “Even though there’s some young guys, we’re hoping for a great year. I want to help my teammates any way I can. I want to win a championship with this team. One of my goals is to get to college, but for now my entire focus is on Washington football.”
As far as differences go between his former and current program, Miller said there wasn’t much to report.
“Kind of similar,” he said. “Both have good traditions, both teams want to win titles. I grew up in Frankford, so I came up playing with the same guys, so the only difference for me has been meeting new teammates and coaches.”
As far as potentially winning a Public League crown at each school, wouldn’t that be something else?
“To win at both places? Man, that would mean a lot,” Miller said. “Especially because it’s my last chapter. It would be real great to win another championship. Football is everything to me … it kept me off the streets where I’m from. It’s my way out, my life. It changed my life, and it’s a blessing to be standing here on this field. It’s taught me that anything is possible if you’re willing to work for it.”
And as far as his new teammates go, Miller insists there’s no bad blood stemming from last year’s championship blowout.
“I joke around with some of those guys about it, but when we’re together I tell them that I’m here now,” he said. “I’m with you. We’re going to work hard and go get that championship together.” ••