By Jim Hintelmann
MIDDLETOWN – While a 6-5 record in high school football may not seem that much to some people, it was something special to Mater Dei Prep’s football team last season.
The Seraphs had not had a winning season since 1999 and it won only three games the past three years. But, there was a difference last season thanks to some several talented newcomers and a big lift from the veteran players.
One of these players was senior linebacker-fullback Sam Miles, a three-year varsity starter who wasn’t surprised that his team had its best season in years.
“We were very confident coming into the season,” said Miles, who also played well in basketball and baseball. “Our coaches told us that we could succeed – even though it wasn’t easy coming from a 1-9 record a year ago to 6-5.”
A powerful offense, led by quarterback Christian Palmer and running backs Tysaun White and Derrick Lopez, averaged 25 points per game while Miles led the defense.
The highlight of the season was a 12-7 win over Morristown-Beard in the opening round of the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 1 state tournament. It was Mater Dei Prep’s first win in a state tournament game in 14 years.
“Morristown-Beard made a long drive down to our 5-yard line late in the game but we held them,” Miles recalled. “We lost to St. Mary’s of Rutherford in the semifinals, but they were just a better team.
“We still had a good season and beat all the teams that we should have beaten,” Miles said. “We had a tough schedule with Shore, Point Beach and Asbury Park in our division.”
Mater Dei Prep’s best game, however, was a 30-24 win over Spotswood in overtime.
“They had a very good team,” Miles said. “Spotswood beat Point Beach early in the season but we rallied and beat them.
Although the schedules were different, Mater Dei Prep did achieved a unique accomplishment in that it finished with a better record then its Middletown Township rivals; Middletown South (5-5) and Middletown North (3-7).
Miles didn’t play football as a freshman, but changed his mind as a sophomore and that proved to be a wise decision.
“My older brother was two years ahead of me, but he talked me into coming out for football,” Miles said. “Coming into high school, basketball was the only sport that I was going to play.”
Miles also enjoyed good seasons in both basketball and baseball.
Miles averaged 17 points and six rebounds in basketball, including a career-high 38 points in a game against Toms River East.
“I got into a good flow and hit a few jumpers,” he said. “Then I got going.”
The Seraphs finished 10-9, but Miles thinks it could have been a little better.
“We were confident and had a couple of new players coming in,” said Miles, who finished with a career-high 980 points. Even though we had some talent, we didn’t put everything together but it was still a good season.
“Sam is just a super kid,” Mater Dei basketball coach Bob Klatt said. “He’s a leader on and off the floor and is the first person out there.”
Miles was a pitcher/right fielder in baseball as the Seraphs went 14-12. He hit .359 for the season and was 4-2 as a pitcher.
“My best game was the opener against Keyport when I knocked in three runs with a double and single.”
The football season in Miles’ junior year was a rough one with Mater Dei winning just one game. During that year, Mater Dei lost its first seven games before defeating Metuchen 27-6.
“That was the first time I played on a high school football team that won a game,” he said. “It was our homecoming game and I had a 60-yard touchdown run.
“I found out what winning a football game was like and it was great,” Miles said. “That was a great feeling.”
He recalled that his “best game” as a junior “was against Shore Regional under the lights. We lost the game but I had about 12 tackles.”
Miles is a good student with history his best subject. He will be attending East Carolina University next month, but does not plan to play any sports there.
“I was looking at Moravian, Kings College (Pa.) and Wilkes, but I visited East Carolina, loved the campus and will be going there. I’ll probably major in business. I might try some coaching when I get out of college.”
“There is nothing like high school sports,” he said. “I’m close to coach Sciarappa and will miss him a lot. It was a great environment at Mater Dei.”
Miles expects Mater Dei Prep to have another good football season this year – despite some key graduation losses.
“We still have some good players. Palmer will only get better and we’ll have a freshman team for the first time. We have a football team at St. Mary’s (New Monmouth) and most of the players are coming here.”