Backup safety Jeromy Miles is the only Ravens player who, as a collegian, dressed in the home locker room at the historic facility, which was dedicated in 1959 to “all those who have served and will serve in the Navy and Marine Corps of the United States.”
In fact, Miles is the lone active National Football League player who attended the Naval Academy. The New Jersey native started 11 games for the Midshipmen as a plebe in 2006, ranking sixth in tackles for a squad that compiled a 9-4 record and played in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
So it will be a homecoming of sorts for Miles on Monday when the Ravens travel to Annapolis for a free, public practice at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
“It's a very special moment for me, and definitely a nice little homecoming,” Miles said excitedly following practice at team headquarters in Owings Mills last week. “I remember the last time I played a game there, and it will be real neat to go back. I have great memories of my time at Navy, and God blessed me to be in this position of going back there as a pro player.”
Miles, a native of Sicklerville, N.J., was recruited out of Winslow High by longtime Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Green. He spent one year at the Naval Academy Prep School before enrolling in Annapolis, growing close with classmates such as Curtis Bass, Blake Carter, Matt Nechak and Ram Vela.
“They talk about the Navy brotherhood, and I still have a special bond with all the guys I went to prep school and went through plebe summer with,” Miles said. “I'm so glad that I'm connected to those guys for life.”
One of the former Navy teammates who Miles remained in contact with over the years was Carter, who died in late June of a self-inflicted wound while stationed in Norfolk, Va. Miles felt compelled to attend the funeral service in Carter's hometown of Stillwater, Okla., surprising the likes of Bass and Vela with his appearance.
“I was real close with Blake, and it hurt me when I heard he took his life. I felt like I had to go to the funeral and show my support,” Miles said.
It is extremely rare for plebes to start at Navy, but Miles forced his way into the lineup with superb play on special teams. He took over the starting job at the “Rover” position by the third game and finished with 61 tackles and two interceptions -- earning the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year award.
"I remember there was a kickoff drill early in August camp. Seeing Jeromy run down the field, flip his hips, change direction and find the football … it was obvious he was a special talent. He had great football sense, even as a freshman,” said Green, who is beginning his 13th season as defensive coordinator and secondary coach. “Jeromy had loose hips and a lot of range. I think the biggest thing is that he was a very good tackler and had really good ball skills.”
Rice rushed for 93 yards as Rutgers routed Navy, 34-0, at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on Oct. 14, 2006. Miles, who was the home team's leading tackler that day, remains grateful to Green for the opportunity to play as a plebe.
“Buddy Green was in my corner the whole way. I learned so much from Coach Green, who was a hard-nosed, blue-collar, come-to-work-every-day type of man. He really coached me up and helped turn me into the player I am today,” Miles said. “Hopefully, I'll see Coach Green when I'm down there on Monday.”
Needless to say, Green was disappointed when Miles decided to leave the Naval Academy following that promising freshman campaign. He transferred to Division I-AA Massachusetts, where he became a Walter Camp first team All-American as a senior.
Had Miles remained at the academy, he would have spent three years alongside free safety Wyatt Middleton, one of the finest defenders in Navy football history and a player good enough to earn NFL tryouts following two years of active duty.
“It was very disappointing because we would have had two great safeties back there at the same time with Jeromy and Wyatt,” Green said. “That being said, I'm proud of what Jeromy has done as a football player and how far he's gone.”
Miles said he simply did not adjust to the military aspect of the Naval Academy and also realized as a freshman that he might have professional potential.
“The military lifestyle isn't for everybody. That's why they give you a couple years before you have to fully commit and make that choice,” he said. “I wanted to have a regular college life, and I wasn't prepared to serve five years after I got done playing football.
“It just wasn't for me, but I have the utmost respect for everyone who goes through that system. They come out with amazing discipline and work ethic. They are extremely prepared for life afterward and tend to be very successful people. That's one of those decisions in life when you have to go with your heart. Obviously, I'm here in the NFL, so I don't have any regrets.”
Signed by the Cincinnati Bengals as an undrafted free agent, Miles is entering his fifth season in the NFL. Claimed off waivers last September, the 27-year-old was a special teams standout for the Ravens, recording nine tackles in 12 games. He received a one-year contract worth $795,000 during the offseason and is pushing hard to make the opening roster.
“Jeromy came in a little late last season, so it took him a while to catch up defensively, but he proved himself right away as a special teams' player,” Ravens secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “What we didn't know was whether he could pick up a defensive system, be vocal and make calls, but he has done that so far in camp. He's really climbed the ladder, and we're very happy with what he's doing right now. It's been a pleasure to watch him skyrocket as far as learning the system.”
Miles is currently listed No. 3 on the depth chart at strong safety behind starter Matt Elam and backup Anthony Levine. Spagnuolo said he's “excited for what Jeromy can do” and that he has confidence to insert the 6-foot-2, 215-pounder into a game on defense.
“I'm just trying to show the coaches that I can do all the little things right and can be fundamentally-sound. Most importantly, I have to show that I can get everybody lined up because that's what the safeties have to do here,” Miles said. “I come in every day and work really hard at studying film, listening at meetings and making plays on the practice field to show the coaches that I'm ready to help this team win.”