WVU's Donovan Miles remembers defense well
MORGANTOWN -- What Donovan Miles insists -- and what the fifth-year senior from Stafford, Va., wishes everyone understood -- is that almost nothing has changed for him.
Oh, it is true he is at a new position at West Virginia and was asked to play fullback after trying to crack the depth chart with mixed results as a linebacker the previous four years and three seasons.
This is offense, which he hasn't known since high school, and that was defense, for which he was so greatly coveted as a senior at Brook Point High in 2007. But understand, please, that Miles is still playing football and there was a time when he was very good at that.
Good enough to be regarded as one of the top 25 outside linebackers in the country. Good enough to have WVU, Maryland, Virginia and Virginia Tech battling for his signed letter of intent.
Good enough that when Bill Stewart was the WVU interim coach for the Fiesta Bowl in 2008, he found a quiet seat at the back of one of the buses taking the team to its walk-through the day before the game and decided to call Miles.
Stewart felt so sure about Miles as a player that he tried to convince him to stick with the Mountaineers on National Signing Day, no matter who was in charge or who was left on the staff.
Miles was that good. He says he always was and still is. All that changed was the opportunities to show what he can do. For the past seven practices at WVU, Miles has flourished after being moved to fullback.
"Even though I didn't play a lot, I still took a lot of reps, so this isn't really that different," he said. "I still got reps. I didn't play as much, but I always prepared myself.
"If at any given time I had to come in, I knew I could do it because I prepared myself like someone who did play a lot. This isn't much different for me."
Before the final practice prior to spring break, linebackers coach Keith Patterson pulled Miles aside and mentioned the position change. It's never an easy conversation for a coach or a player because the coach never knows how the player will react.
Further complicating this chat was the fact Miles had known Patterson for barely a month. How, a different player might wonder, could a coach who had been hired only weeks before claim to know what was good for someone who'd been around for so long?
"Actually," Miles said, "I look at him like he's been my coach since little league, even though he just got here. When he addressed me about it, I felt confident and felt like I could do it."
Whenever Coach Dana Holgorsen or running backs coach Robert Gillespie or even Patterson talks about Miles and his move, they mention his attitude. He plays hard and physical and he is big at 6 feet 1, 240 pounds.
So far, so early in his return to the position he played a little bit in the I-formation in high school, he is good at one thing above all the others.
Miles gets somewhere fast and generally arrives in a bad mood. And this, like everything else, isn't new. This is the same Miles, we must remember, whose high school described him thusly in 2008:
"I don't know what he runs time-wise, but on the football field, I know when he has to get somewhere, he gets there in a hurry," coach Jeff Berry said. "He's real explosive. He gets to the ball really well and when he gets to the ball, he's usually going to lay a pretty good lick on somebody."
Still the same, and now we must also remember this is the guy who hasn't been able to do that nearly as much as he so badly wanted to do. But he's getting the chances now and he's getting those hits he stored up through the years out of his system.
He was first moved there to secure the position for the Mountaineers. Matt Lindamood had to stop playing football because of a neck injury and Ryan Clarke was the only other scholarship player at the position.
Clarke was slowed last week by a bad lower extremity and Miles kept coming and kept striking.
"I do like that part," he said. "I do like just being able to hit somebody. But I still keep preparing like I've always done it, like I know I can go in there at any time."
And there's that attitude again, and when Holgorsen and Gillespie and Patterson talk about it, they're not talking about how hard he plays or big he hits, but how he's wired to do anything the team asks.
Again, nothing new. When Stewart called him that night before the Fiesta Bowl and said he wasn't sure what would happen next for his title or for his team, he was trying to reassure Miles about his future with the Mountaineers.
It was Miles was who ended up comforting Stewart.
"Coach Stewart, you're going to win the game and once you win the game, everyone is going to see you're fit to be the head coach," Miles said. "You're going to get the job and I'm going to play for you."
Miles played, but not much. He redshirted in 2008 and then in the next three years managed all of nine tackles - all last season and all on special teams. Yet never once was there a problem for the people who might otherwise worry about how a player reacts when things don't work out like they did in his dreams.
What's happening now, whatever happens next, doesn't define his career at WVU. It only enhances what he's already accomplished.
"I've made a big impact on my teammates in the locker room," he said. "On the field, I haven't made that much of an impact, but the brotherhood in the locker room, and even with my coaches off the field, or in the classroom, I've made a huge impact.
"I feel good about that. When I do graduate and when I leave, I will feel good about that."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142.