Tekeya Cook refused to let her son, Shareef Miller, slip through the cracks.
Miller was a prized defensive end recruit, chased after by numerous college programs after a junior season at Frankford High School in Northeast Philadelphia that ended with him earning first‐team All‐Southeastern Pennsylvania honors.
The only problem? Miller's grades were in danger of not being able to seize the scholarship offered by those schools.
Cook moved so her son could attend nearby George Washington High School and escape the distractions that ruined the hopes and dreams of so many other adolescents. At the time, though, Miller didn't understand why his mother was making him switch schools entering his senior year.
"I was so caught up that I was a traitor because Frankford and George Washington were rivals, so I wasn't really looking at the big picture," Miller said. "I was just so worried about what other people had to say and that I was transferring from Frankford to Washington.
"Looking back on it now and as I got older, it was the best decision my mom could have ever done for me because it changed my life."
Miller was on the right track in January 2015. He once again captured first‐team All‐Southeastern Pennsylvania honors. His academics were straightened out. He committed to Penn State.
What should have been a happy time at the end of his senior year for Miller turned tragic when his older brother, Mikal, was murdered in West Philadelphia a month before graduation.
Miller's mom acted quickly to make sure that she didn't lose another son.
"I was really devastated and down once I lost my brother," Miller said. "I didn't really want to do anything, and I really didn't even want to go to Penn State after my brother died because he died before I went to campus. But she told me to keep pushing and she told me, 'You've got to do it for your brother. Your brother would want you to work hard and do what you've got to do.'
"So my mom kept me level-headed. She is a person that I can lean on and talk to. If I didn't have my mom, I don't know where I would be today."
After his redshirt freshman season, Miller played in all 14 games in 2016 and showed plenty of promise registering 22 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks.
Miller became a starter in 2017 and earned third-team All-Big Ten honors from the media after more than doubling his sack (5) and tackles for loss (11) totals. He even began to show leadership as he donned the No. 19 jersey for two games to honor teammate Torrence Brown, who suffered a season-ending injury.
"The thing about Shareef is, I was so proud of him, from the time we recruited him out of high school, from the time that he showed up here on campus is he's grown, he's matured, he's developed in every aspect of his life – academically, athletically, socially," said Penn State head coach James Franklin. "He's really become a big-time football player, was a tremendous leader for us this year on our D-line, on our defense, and really with our team."
The 6-4, 254-pound Miller was a third-team All-Big Ten selection in 2018 after posting 41 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, and 7.5 sacks in 13 games. He was also Penn State's Co-Most Valuable Defensive Player this past season. In 40 games over his three-year career, the 22-year-old had 100 tackles, 31.5 tackles for loss, 14.5 sacks, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.
"Where I thought he made a big step this year is he was a really complete player," Franklin said. "A lot of time early on, all defensive ends want to do is sack the quarterback and he's at a point now not only does he enjoy obviously getting pressure on the quarterback but playing the run consistently and holding his gap and all of those types of things.
"We get excited about that guy that's got the one really sexy trait that you fall in love with. He ran an unbelievable 40 or did one thing extremely well. And that's not really the case with Shareef. He does a lot of things at a high level."
Miller visited with the Philadelphia Eagles, the team that he's cheered for his entire life, before the NFL Draft. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz pulled him aside and told him he would "be a great fit" and "a guy they need." It meant a lot to Miller coming from Schwartz, knowing the type of defensive scheme the Eagles utilize.
"I know everything about the Eagles. I love how they attack fronts," Miller said. "The defensive line attacks and I just like everything about the Eagles' defense. Being a fan and watching how they get after guys and get after the quarterback. Also, the type of swag they play with the Eagles and the brotherhood over there."
On Saturday, Miller was about 15 minutes from the NovaCare Complex in Philadelphia with his mother and other family and friends to watch the last day of the NFL Draft unfold. With the final pick in the fourth round, the 138th overall selection, the Eagles brought Miller home.
"It was a good possibility that I could be drafted by the Eagles and come back home. To be able to just come home and play for the Eagles is great," Miller said. "I feel like I got the right people around me. I surround myself with the right group of people that support me and want the best for me, so I don't think staying home in Philly will be a distraction because of the type of people I have around me.
"I'm just so happy and just super excited and super blessed and super thankful that the Eagles gave me this opportunity. ... It couldn't be a better story."
But it's one that is far from over.
"My mom told me it's time to work now," he said. "I'm just ready to work, that's it. Just put my head down and soak up all the knowledge I can from the older guys in the D-line room and learn from them how to be a professional."