Barron Miles Had the Heart and Desire to Succeed
By Shane G. Gilster
When it comes to describing Barron Miles, a Mark Twain quote comes to mind. “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”
Miles wasn’t your prototype defensive back at 5-foot-8, 165 pounds, but he was able to play at the highest level in college and professionally because of his desire to succeed.
“Barron was one of the most confident guys I have ever been around,” said former NU linebacker Troy Dumas. “He was so confident to the point that it could be offending sometimes because he wanted to be the best at everything on and off the field. He was super aggressive and played every play 100 miles per hour.”
Miles not only had to overcome perceived physical limitations, but also academic issues that threatened his eligibility to play college football.
Miles was a talented option quarterback and safety for Abraham Clark High School in Roselle, New Jersey. “I prided myself playing multiple positions on the football field,” he said. “As long as you put me there, I could play it.”
Miles’ top schools were Syracuse, Kansas, Northwestern and the University of Massachusetts because they were recruiting him as a quarterback.
“My ultimate school was Oklahoma because I loved watching their quarterback Jamelle Holieway run the option,” Miles said. “But my brothers loved Nebraska and Turner Gill, so we would watch the Nebraska-Oklahoma game all the time.”
Schools backed off once Miles’ academic scores were known. But Nebraska maintained contact and told Miles about their Prop 48 program, which took partial qualifies and gave them a chance to make the team.
“They said I needed a GPA of 2.0 and maintained that through the whole year and after that I could go on scholarship,” Miles said. “Nebraska’s Prop 48 program allowed me to prove that I could maintain a GPA well enough to stay in school and participate in sports.”
During the 1991 fall and 1992 spring semesters at NU, Miles proved himself in the classroom and to his future teammates and coaches. He stayed on task because his main goal was to get his grades right to be eligible to play football when it was time.
“The year I sat out, I was a pest,” said Miles, who couldn’t participate with the team during practices. “I did everything possible to try and get on the field but would get kicked off. I would watch the guys on the field and then off on the side; I would try and do the same things. I also hit the weight room hard and got stronger.
“I would also play other sports like basketball to showcase my quickness, speed and athleticism. I wanted to show the rest of the team that I was a player and I would be ready to play the next year.”
When fall practice kicked off for the 1992 season, Miles was ready for action. The NU coaches put him at cornerback and he quickly rose up the depth chart becoming a backup to senior Kenny Wilhite at left corner and played in every game that year.
“I trusted the coaches at the University of Nebraska and that was all I needed,” Miles said. “It was an honor for me to be able to go in and sub for players like Kenny Wilhite. The upperclassmen were OK with it as long as we were successful and continued to grow as a team.”
Miles’ influence on the team also grew on special teams. He was the backup punter in 1993 and served as a kickoff returner. But his biggest impact was blocking kicks.
“I remember one day in practice coach (Tony) Samuel asked if anyone could block a kick,” Miles said. “I was catching punts at the time but I ran up to coach Samuel and said I could block punts all day. So, he said, ‘Go ahead, let’s see what you got.’ I lined up on the next play, blocked the punt and that was history.”
Dumas remembers Miles’ impact. “He took the special teams thing and ran with it,” Dumas said. “He made playing special teams cool because a lot of guys were reluctant to play it. He was intense coming off the corner trying to block kicks.”
Miles would block three kicks that season, including a field goal attempt by North Texas, and punts against Oklahoma State and Iowa State. His blocked punt against the Cowboys, which he landed on for a touchdown, was the CNN/ESPN Play-of-the-Week. Also in that game, he added a career high eight tackles and one breakup to become the Big Eight Defensive Player of the Week and the ESPN Player of the Game.
In the 1994 NU media guide, Miles said, “Special teams keeps me motivated. If I have a good play on special teams, it gets me more pumped up to play my normal position (left corner).”
In his first year as a full-time starter in 1993, Miles earned first-team All-Big Eight honors by the conference coaches. He was sixth on the team in tackles with 50 stops, five breakups and an interception. Against UCLA that season, Miles had to match up against J.J. Stokes, the Bruins’ 6-4 All-American receiver. The 5-8 Miles held Stokes to six catches for 65 yards and no touchdowns. He finished the game with seven tackles and two breakups.
“My height gave me an advantage because opposing receivers took me lightly,” Miles said. “I took every challenge to heart and knew my capabilities. I could time the football in the air and had good hand/eye coordination. I trusted in myself and that’s all that mattered. When I knew I was going against a good receiver in a game like a Michael Westbrook (Colorado) or J.J. Stokes, I was geared up. I was on top of my game and didn’t falter.”
Miles was one of the main reasons the Huskers won the national championship in 1994. He earned third-team All-America honors from The Associated Press and was first-team All-Big Eight at cornerback. He also won the New Jersey Sports Writers Association College Defensive Back-of-the-Year award with 13 breakups and five interceptions.
He recorded a school-record six pass breakups against Kansas State and was named the player of the week by the Big Eight, ABC/Chevrolet and Athlon. After the game, NU coach Tom Osborne said, “I though Barron made some great plays out there. He’s a phenomenal athlete.”
Miles also continued his special teams prowess that season, once again serving as the team’s backup punter and blocking four kicks as an edge rusher.
In the final game against Oklahoma, Miles blocked a 33-yard field goal attempt by OU, helping preserve a 13-3 win for the Huskers. It was a school-record fourth blocked kick and seventh of his career (five punts and two field goals).
In the 1995 Orange Bowl against the Miami Hurricanes, Miles had 12 total tackles and broke up three passes in Nebraska’s 24-17 win.
“He rose to the challenge when playing taller receivers,” Dumas said. “Against Miami in the Orange Bowl, there is a picture of him showing how high he could jump breaking up a pass. He was like our entire 1994 defense, which was up for the challenge with a do-or-die type of mentality in every game.”
Despite all his success at Nebraska, he wasn’t looked at as a sure-fire NFL draft prospect.
“A lot of teams looked at me and I didn’t pass the eye test,” Miles said. “I was undersized and teams didn’t want to take a chance on me early in the draft. My 40-yard dash fastest time (4.63) hurt my NFL draft status, but I was more of a game player; put me on the field and I played fast.”
Miles was a sixth-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1995 but wasn’t able to establish himself on the team during a three-year, on-and-off relationship. So he left for the Canadian Football League, joining the Montreal Alouettes in 1998.
He became the CFL East Division Rookie of the Year and played seven seasons in Montreal. He then played for the BC Lions in British Columbia from 2005 to 2009. Miles was a six-time CFL All-Star and finished his career with 66 interceptions in 12 years in the CFL. He also finished his playing career as the CFL’s career leader for blocked kicks (13) and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2018.
“The CFL was tailored to undersized guys,” he said. “It is a faster game that fit my ability.”
Miles then transitioned into coaching, staying in the CFL coaching defensive backs. He currently serves as the Alouettes’ defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.
“I always wanted to be a coach. It started at Nebraska when I was picking the brains of NU coaches like Tony Samuel, Turner Gill, Kevin Steele and George Darlington,” Miles said. “I was asking real questions, wanting to know why they were asking certain things and what motivated players. It all intrigued me.”
Miles, who is 50, would someday like to make it back to the United States and coach in the NFL or college. For him and his wife, Jennifer, the timing is better to do just that, as his youngest daughter, Ava, is graduating high school; his oldest daughter, Raven, 26, is independent; and his son, Barron Jr., is a redshirt freshman walk-on football player at Nebraska.
“My son had trouble with his hips in high school, so he didn’t play as a sophomore and junior and a little bit his senior year. He didn’t have any recruiting offers, so we went to different schools,” Miles said. “When it came to Nebraska, we knew they would take care of him and when he was offered a walk-on spot, we took it. I try to get back to Lincoln at least twice a year but my wife (who is from Schuyler) and daughters get back there a lot more.”