Steve Lewis/Durango Herald
Friends, family and a ThunderWolves cake.
Early in his senior year, it was a party Austin Miles wasn’t sure he’d get to have. The big offensive lineman wasn’t heavily recruited after his junior season, the time college athletes typically land on the radar of college coaches.
But during his senior season, amid a first-team All-Southwestern League campaign, the phone at the Miles’ residence finally started ringing. Then, after dotting all the Is and crossing all the Ts, Miles rang his new head coach to tell him his national letter of intent had arrived.
CSU-Pueblo head coach John Wristen had his man, and Miles had an ear-to-ear grin.
Miles, a Durango High School senior, signed with Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference power CSU-Pueblo on national signing day last week, bringing to an end a late courtship that saw the 6-5, 320-pound lineman choose the ThunderWolves over Colorado Mesa and Western State.
After not hearing from any schools until roughly midway through his senior season, Miles admitted he started to get a little nervous. But a handful of RMAC institutions started inquiring at that point, as did Colorado State, which had no scholarships to offer.
After taking a look at a few schools, Miles was most impressed by CSU-Pueblo.
“I was just going to, you know, see how it was, and when (Wristen) offered me, I was going to be like, ‘Well, give me a few days to think about it,’” Miles said. “But we got up the second morning of their visit, and we were watching their workout, and I was watching the intensity their players had and how the players ... constructed the workout. I just watched it, and I was like, ‘I want to be a part of this.’”
As happy as Miles was to officially sign with CSU-Pueblo, his parents may have been even happier, beaming with pride as their son signed the requisite paperwork in a conference room at Durango High School.
“It’s a dream come true for me. When he came into the world, we knew he was going to be a big kid,” Hugh Miles said. “And he just blossomed into it. ... His work ethic has been just as hard as any kid can do. And I’m just so proud of him that he made it this far.”
“It’s so fun to watch him as the phone rings, and he talks to this coach and that coach, to see him light up,” Mary Miles said.
Miles should fit right in with a program that prides itself on running the ball and running it extremely well behind a big offensive line. The ThunderWolves, who’ve been ranked No. 1 in the nation in each of the last two seasons, led the RMAC in rushing last season at 204.4 yards per game, and their running attack accounted for 31 touchdowns.
To date, the ThunderWolves’ recruiting class includes five offensive linemen, all listed at 250 pounds or heavier.
The program quickly has become winners since bringing back football in 2008. CSU-Pueblo has averaged 8.6 wins per season since returning, and the ThunderWolves won 11 games in 2011 and 12 in 2012, both RMAC championship campaigns.
But Miles said it wasn’t so much wins and losses as the atmosphere and culture of hard work and dedication that appealed to him.
“I’m happy to be a part of a program that’s dedicated to the sport, and I can’t wait to go down this fall and be a part of it,” Miles said.
From a nerve-wracking absence of phone calls to a fledgling national powerhouse program, now that’s a reason to party.