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Penn State Football: A Year After His Brother's Death, Shareef Miller Makes The Most Of Opportunity

by on September 04, 2016 7:00 AM

Sitting in a chair tucked away off to the side of the Beaver Stadium media room Shareef Miller scrunches his face as he says the words.

"My brother, you know, he had a life in the streets." Miller says pausing ever so briefly, the kind of pause that doesn't come as the result of breath, but as the byproduct of emotions. The room is so loud, so busy, so full of energy, that nobody notices as he raises his hand to scratch his nose. Or perhaps to hide his face.

"And he had an encounter with somebody," Miller continued. "And an argument and he got shot."

It has been just over a year since his bother's death, something that seemed almost inevitable as you dig into his story. A circle of violence so hard to avoid and even harder to escape.

Reports from that day say that Mikal Powell-Miller was shot four times in the streets of north Philadelphia, dying in the arms of one of his brothers. He died in a city where gunfire is as regular as the sunrise. To this day it is a place that Miller still calls home, the Whitehall housing project, just another complex holding together a city that is one of the most violent in the nation.

For a place that prides itself in brotherly love, there is very little of that to be found in Frankford, a small area just a few blocks from the Delaware River. Miller mentions Tacony street, one of the many that have played host to scenes in his life. It runs crushed between the Delaware Expressway and adjacent to even more rails and electric wiring of public transportation. It's one of those roads the rest of the world avoids and simply sees as something between here and wherever you're headed. It's a place where you simply don't stop. But for Miller it was the place where he grew up.

So no matter how close Philadelphia might be to State College, it is truly a world away.

"I'm just blessed," Miller said. "Last year I lost my older brother before I came to Penn State and I redshirted. So I waited a whole year for this moment. I played for my brother and just laid it all out on the field."

And Miller did. His Penn State debut was a memorable one, 1.5 sacks, five tackles and plenty of emotion. In a game that won't be remembered for much, it was a game that Miller will never forget much like his initial visit to Penn State. From the rolling and ever present uncertainty of being around the streets to the rolling hills of central PA, so much space, so many differences.

"State College, my first time up here I called up my mom and I just said "It's so different, it's so different from Philly." I love it up here," Miller recalled. "How all the people, they were loving and caring. Not like how it is in Philly. It's a lot of hate, not between everybody but where I'm from a lot of people once you succeed they see you doing good and they want to bring you down. 

"It's so different, it's so great, I'm just blessed to honest."

There is a sincerity in his voice as he says that, an understanding that he is one of the lucky ones. Former Penn State basketball star DJ Newbill would often alluded to that same feeling, he too from north Philadelphia. For as kind and as thoughtful as Newbil could be, there was never any doubt where he came from, never any doubt that he hadn't lost that ability to have eyes in the back of his head. It's a terrifying talent to need, but one that never really goes away.

Talk to Miller's teammates and you get the sense they understand that. Defensive end Garrett Sickels was as excited about Miller's performance as he was the win. For a unit not lacking talent, it's seeing the other guy succeed that gets them going, not the individual success. A bond that transcends background and upbringing, cultures and differences. There are many cliches about the nature of teammates, but they are not untrue. Where communities may try and drag you down, teammates can be that safety net, they can be that support system, they can change your life.

"The thing is we really do treat each other like family, in our position group we're all extremely close," Sickels said with a smile.  "That's why like I said, I was just so excited to see him do that. He has been waiting for this opportunity to play and show everybody what he's capable of I think he did a great job of that today."

And that truly, is brotherly love.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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