Miles Austin follows unusual career path to success with Cowboys

Oct 31 2009 - 11:16pm

IRVING, Texas -- The Kansas City Chiefs can pin some blame on Ann Austin for their overtime loss to the Cowboys. The Atlanta Falcons, a blowout victim last week, can point fingers at her, too.

If not for his mother's prodding, Miles Austin might never have broken Bob Hayes' reception record. He might never have gained more yards receiving in his first two starts than any player in NFL history.

He might not have played football at all.

"I kind of talked him into it," she said, chuckling at the memory of 8-year-old Miles surveying a muddy football field. "He was like, 'I don't want to get dirty."'

That reluctance continued until midway through his junior year at Garfield (N.J.) High School. A standout in track and basketball, Austin joined the football team by negotiating with the coach for a detention pass.

That led to a partial scholarship to Monmouth University, where he set school records for receptions, yards and touchdowns. And that got him a free-agent tryout in front of two NFL scouts.

Four years later, Austin is an overnight sensation. He will make his third career start Sunday against Seattle. He has ignited the Cowboys offense with his breakaway speed, amassing 16 catches, 421 yards and four touchdowns in his first two starts.

Those may seem like startling numbers for a guy who began the season battling for the No. 3 wide receiver spot. But not to those who were at Valley Ranch watching him run 40s with other rookies in 2006.

"I was like who is this cat here?" recalled Seattle running back Julius Jones, a former Cowboy. "I thought this guy could be the real deal. He's what you should do with an opportunity. The way he practices, he's an unbelievable athlete."

Special case

Austin has come a long way. He was virtually invisible on the depth chart behind Roy Williams and Patrick Crayton. But he broke into the lineup for the injured Williams and then went on a record-breaking spree.

His 250 yards against the Chiefs were the most receiving yards in NFL history for a first start. And he broke Hayes' franchise record (246 yards) that had stood since Nov. 13, 1966.

"We knew we had gotten somebody special," Monmouth coach Kevin Callahan said. "He was a very talented athlete with very limited football experience, which put him under the radar, or rather, off the radar. His freshman year we just told him to run by everyone. His sophomore year he started understanding routes. That's when we realized he'd have a chance to play in the NFL."

Austin is so big-time now that he gets about as many text messages after games as yards. His introduction at the Mavericks game drew rousing applause. Reporters crowd around his locker.

One of the 5,510 fans on his Facebook page wrote: "Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and has made the Lord his hope and confidence. -- Jeremiah 17:7". That was followed by: "and blessed is the man who can actually hold miles austin under 100 yards rec." -- Miles 1:9."

But he mostly shies from the publicity.

"It's fine with me," he said. "I'm still going to live the same life I have been living and continue to do what I've been doing. You know I didn't have this many people at my locker five weeks ago. It's a process."

'Miles Smiles'

Austin's wide painted-on smile may seem made for the cameras, but it's been a distinguishing feature for 25 years, spawning the childhood nickname Miles Smiles.

"Always happy-go-lucky," Ann Austin said. "He never got too high or too low."

It took a series of fortunate events for Austin to land with the Cowboys.

Before his senior year at Monmouth, Austin worked out with other college and high school players in Jim Garrett's backyard near Monmouth. The former Cowboys scout saw potential immediately. He told Austin he could make it to the NFL.

After Austin went undrafted, two teams attended Monmouth's pro day before the 2006 draft. Brian Gaine, Dallas' former assistant director of pro scouting, came on Garrett's advice. And the Tennessee Titans sent their receivers coach, Ray Sherman.

Callahan, the Monmouth coach, had recruited Gaine and was a casual acquaintance of then-Cowboys coach Bill Parcells, who lived nearby. Austin was one of three free-agent rookies the Cowboys signed. And his offensive coordinator is Garrett's son, Jason, who practiced in the same backyard and also made it to the NFL as an undrafted free agent.

"You could see right away what a great athlete he was," Jim Garrett said. "But never did I think it would work out like this. He has the underdog mentality of an undrafted free agent. Through hard work, he put himself in position for when the time came to produce, he did it."

Austin's still on a learning curve. He spent most of his first three seasons on special teams. But his big-play potential has never waned.

As a rookie he returned three kickoffs for 136 yards against Seattle in the wild-card playoff game. His 93-yarder was the first kickoff return for a touchdown in club history. He ranked ninth in kickoff returns in 2007 and then became a reserve receiver in 2008.

Although the departure of Terrell Owens moved him up a spot on the depth chart, Austin entered this season competing with Sam Hurd for third receiver spot. He had just five catches in the first four games.

In two games as a starter, Austin has more yardage than all of the Cowboys' other receivers and has matched their combined number of touchdowns.

"He knew it was just a matter of time," Ann Austin said. "He's waited too long for just a chance."

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IN THE KNOW: Miles Austin

Position: Wide receiver

Age: 25

Ht./Wt.: 6-3, 214

College: Monmouth University, West Long Branch, N.J.

NFL season: Fourth

Acquired: Rookie free agent, 2006

Family: Single; father Miles; mother Ann; sister Jennifer (27).

Notable: At Garfield (N.J.) High, he posted the second-longest javelin throw in Bergen County history (214 feet, 8 inches). His older sister, Jennifer, who went to Rutgers on a track scholarship, also threw the javelin. . . . He signed a one-year contract in April. . . . Finished career at Monmouth as all-time leader in TD receptions (33), receptions (150) and yards (2,867).

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