ST. PETERSBURG – The defensive wall rose high for Bethal Miles long before he played the position on the football field. Where keeping your head on a swivel is good fundamentals on the gridiron, on the south side of Chicago it was necessary to live. The struggle is real.
Territorial wars amongst rival gangs made coming home from school a life and death obstacle course. As a youth, playing outside was largely dependent on what day it was and if playing put you in the line of crossfires.
Miles spent his ninth grade year at Thornridge High School, an all-black school in Dalton, Ill., that is 14 minutes from the city. It was an attempt to keep the family safe and give him an opportunity to play football, but it was a tough area for his mom to find the right job to support the family. Therefore, the family moved back to a more affordable part of Chicago.
With the move came more danger. Miles learned how to maneuver through the neighborhood, but something had to change. The move to Florida was about survival.
“My mom moved to Florida to get me away from the violence that I witnessed in the streets of Chicago,” said Miles. “Florida is a more relaxed place and it’s better for me. It’s an adjustment, but it helped me to get excited about playing football and my grandmother is here.”
Miles and his grandmother have a special bond. He was born premature, weighing only 1.7 pounds. He was so tiny that his mom feared that he would break. But, grandma knew better.
“My grandmother beefed me up and held me in her arms,” said Miles. “She made me comfortable and groomed me. As I grew up, it wasn’t that I didn’t love my mother because I do, but my grandmother—that’s my lady.”
Having been in and out of Florida since about the sixth grade, the area wasn’t difficult for Miles to navigate. What is a bit more challenging for him is to take down the edgy wall around him that was necessary in Chicago for his safety. It is an internal survival skill and it is his daily challenge.
He wanted to keep the toughness and his head on a swivel because it can serve him well on the football field. However, he doesn’t want people to think that he pushes people away and that he’s not a caring person.
“I try to check myself and use what I’ve learned in life to be a better person. I love football and I’m looking forward to a good season,” said Miles, who’s now a 10th grader at Northeast High School.
He expressed how he wants to make a major contribution to the team and become the best defensive end ever in Pinellas County. Miles admires Lakewood High School grad and Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler, Jr.
“His pass rush moves are ridiculous along with his speed and quickness. I’d like to get to that level.”
The struggle is real but Miles’ defensive wall can be relegated to tackling running backs and sacking quarterbacks. Being a top defensive lineman will keep him in the line of fire, but not hazardous to his health. The rivals that he’ll face will have on helmets and shoulder pads and show up to battle on Friday nights.