Rookie defensive end Shareef Miller ventured back to familiar territory to speak at the Practice 4 Peace on Thursday. This initiative started last year to combat the tragedy of gun violence and students affected by it. On the muddy fields of Boys Latin High School, two rival Philadelphia high schools came together for practice. Boys Latin and Frankford, where Miller attended his first three years of high school, joined for an afternoon of drills, fun, and, most importantly, unity.
"The very first Practice 4 Peace was exactly a year ago today," said Frankford's head coach Bill Systma. "We came up with the idea that we would come together to show solidarity with the message of peace and do this event. It has just been getting bigger and I'm excited about what it could become."
Miller's connection to this event goes past returning to the school that elevated his football career. He has also experienced the devastation of gun violence with the loss of his older brother, Mikal.
"It is personal," Miller said. "Being from Frankford and dealing with the violence every day, losing my brother. My brother is from West Philly and was killed here too. It was really touching for me to come out here."
For Miller, this afternoon was about taking his past experiences and showing these student-athletes what they can achieve with perseverance. He preached about the importance of education and how activities like football can help these young men remain on the right path.
"Education is really important," Miller said. "I can share my story and tell them that academics is everything. Without that you can't do anything. Sports helps a lot too, especially for me. That kept me off the streets and kept my head focused. For these kids to be out here, playing the sport of football, and staying out of trouble is the best feeling."
After speaking to the high school students, Miller practiced with the teams. He mainly gravitated toward the defensive line drills as he reminisced on the similarity of the workouts and coaching style to when he was in their shoes. Miller showed the athletes how to perfect their form, hand placement, and gave them the correct mindset to finishing a tackle.
"It's a great feeling," Miller said. "When I was young, I always wanted someone to come back from where I came from that actually made it to the highest level. For it to be me is a blessing."
As Miller enters his first Training Camp in less then a week, events like Practice 4 Peace put things into perspective. He understands the excitement that comes along with this opportunity but will always remember how he started on the unkempt fields of Philadelphia.
"I'm ready," Miller said of starting Training Camp. "I'm confident. This is a blessing to be from Philly and to play for the Eagles. It's still crazy. It's a great opportunity and I want to make the most of it."