KAMAS — In his first football season, Hagen Miles ended every practice puking.
“I wanted to quit almost every day,” said the South Summit senior. “The conditioning was so bad, I puked almost every day.”
In fact, he struggled so much with the end-of-practice runs that his mother thought he had asthma.
“My dad, he said, ‘There is nothing wrong with him; he’s just out of shape,’” Miles said with a laugh. “And I kind of got that attitude from my dad that I just needed to stick with it.”
What that experience taught him as an 8-year-old is that if something was hard, he needed to embrace it.
“I learned the harder I work, the easier it will be the next time,” he said. “The biggest thing I’ve learned from football is that just because something is hard, you can’t give up.”
Miles is grateful he stuck with the sport that eventually became his favorite of the three he plays. But no one is more grateful than South Summit head coach Mike Grajek.
“He’s just a great kid,” Grajek said of the 6-foot-1 middle linebacker. “He’s been starting since he was a sophomore, and he’s just willing to do anything we ask of him.”
A lot of coaches praise their players for putting team first, but Miles's commitment might be among the most impressive. He has played offensive line, running back and linebacker for the No. 1-ranked Wildcats.
“He does anything we ask without complaint,” Grajek said. “A lot of times, kids will go home and listen to mom and dad, and maybe say, ‘How come coach has you playing on the offensive line when you play running back?’ But without a great offensive line, we don’t have the success we have.”
Miles deflected his coach’s praise by pointing out the talent of his teammates. And then, he admits, it’s not such a stretch for him to play offensive line — even at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds.
“He asked me to play offensive line, and he acts like that’s what’s difficult,” he said. “But my entire little league, I played only offensive and defensive line, so it’s kind of more of a comfortable position. He said he didn’t play running back or linebacker until high school.
“I love playing linebacker,” he said.
And his passion shows on the field, Grajek said.
Miles leads the top-ranked team with three interceptions, and he is the heart of the team’s defense.
When the team’s starting quarterback had to sit out with an injury, coaches moved him to running back, which Miles said was a much tougher adjustment.
“I feel like I get thrown into the deep end,” Miles said. “But we have a great offensive line, so that makes me more comfortable.”
The Wildcats look poised to defend their 2A state title, although not with a perfect record like they had in 2017.
“It’s been a really great year,” Miles said. “This year, we didn’t want to go out riding on last year’s momentum. We wanted to make this year remembered for what we did rather than what the team was able to do last year.”
The difference, he said, is that players have worked hard to fill the holes left by last year’s seniors.
“Watching guys develop, grow and exceed expectations, that’s been really great to see,” Miles said. “Guys who just played JV or barely played varsity, to see them starting varsity, it’s been awesome.”
That leadership Miles provides is critical to what Grajek hopes to accomplish each season. Despite being a 2A school, he tries to use players on only offense or defense.Comment on this story
“We’re small-town football,” he said. “But I try really hard to get as many guys on the field contributing as possible. I feel like the more guys we have contributing to our success, that’s going to be better for everybody.”
Key in to making that philosophy is convincing guys like Miles that singular contributions are enough.
“These kids, they’ve come up and they want to be two-way starters,” he said. “But they buy into the whole is greater than their personal accolades. … And Miles is one who has done everything we’ve asked for the sake of the team. He’s been more than willing to just play that part.”