Gridiron Classic: Symbol of Change: Mater Dei Prep’s Sam Miles
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The turnaround season that Mater Dei Prep enjoyed in 2013 came out of nowhere to 99 percent of the Shore Conference. Anyone who could have envisioned the Seraphs having one of their best seasons in program history resided deep within the program, and even some of those individuals weren’t sold until they were in the midst of a fantastic run.
Linebacker Sam Miles, who will represent Mater Dei when he suits up for the U.S. Army All-Shore Gridiron Classic at 7 p.m. on Thursday at Brick Township’s Keller Memorial Field, was as stunned as anyone at the onset. Miles was a three-year starter for the Seraphs, and witnessed the program go from winning just 14 games combined from 2003 to 2012 to finishing 6-5 last season, which included the program’s second state playoff win all-time, a 12-7 victory over Morristown-Beard in the NJSIAA Non-Public Group I tournament. Last season was the first winning campaign at Mater Dei since it reached a sectional final in 1999.
“I don’t know if you could have talked to one person who would have seen this coming, including myself,” Miles said. “Mr. Sciarappa (the team’s head coach) and coach (Shannon) Hoadley have done a phenomenal job of having kids believing.”
In Sciarappa’s first season in 2010, the Seraphs won their final two games to finish 3-7 for their most wins since going 4-6 in 2006. Miles started as a sophomore, but Mater Dei again struggled through a pair of 1-9 seasons.
In 2013, the Seraphs started 2-0 for the first time since 1986, and suddenly there was life throughout the program. They then defeated Dunellen, 49-35, to begin the season 3-0 with three games scoring at least 34 points. After four straight losses, two of which came at the hands of Central Jersey Group I finalists Point Beach and Shore Regional, Mater Dei won two straight games against Metuchen and Spotswood to qualify for the playoffs at 5-4, guaranteeing them their first non-losing season in over a decade.
Miles didn’t begin playing football until his sophomore year of high school, but became an integral part of Mater Dei’s transformation. He was selected to the Class B Central all-division team by the coaches, and was also a Shore Football Coaches Association Academic All-Shore recipient. In addition to playing in the Gridiron Classic, he also participated in the Phil Simms North-South All-Star Classic. He finished with three interceptions during his senior year, which was among the top totals for Shore Conference linebackers.
On top of being a part of one of Mater Dei’s greatest seasons and being selected to play in the Gridiron Classic, making the experience surreal is the fact that Monmouth County’s practices are being held at Mater Dei. Miles, who also played basketball and baseball for the Seraphs, will head to East Carolina University this fall, but will be concentrating solely on academics. The chance to play in one final game means a lot.
“It’s an absolute honor to represent Mater Dei,” Miles said. “It’s beyond special. I will never put on another pair of football pads in my life, and to get the opportunity to play in one last game is something I’ll always remember.”
Miles will be keeping tabs on his former teammates from his dorm in Greenville, North Carolina, when the 2014 season kicks off. Mater Dei got some much-needed help going into 2013 with the infusion of some transfers as well as a promising freshman class to surround the core of Miles, rising senior quarterback Christian Palmer and four-year starting linemen Ron Perez and Matt Eckert.
Derek Lopez, who will play collegiately at Ithaca College, had transferred from Rahway before his junior season. Senior Jalanie Mitchell also came in from Rahway, and rising senior Tysaun White, a third-team Shore Sports Network All-Shore selection, transferred in from St. Anthony. Playmaker Eddie Lewis led an exciting group of freshmen that also included starting cornerback Ishmael Glasco and starting linebacker John Lubintus. The talent and foundation is certainly there for Mater Dei to build off last season’s success.
“It started with the coaches and how hard they worked to put us in sports we would be successful,” Miles said. “All the confidence they gave us kicked in, and we believed we could win games and play with the bigger schools while each year getting better.
‘I’ll definitely be keeping track next year, and I’m excited for them.”