Other than the extra years of maturity he wears on his face, Tehuti Miles does his best to blend seamlessly into the Maryland football locker room. He has learned not to make any noise and how to hide the panic on his face when an unexpected noise or a random train of thought takes him on a wrong turn down memory lane.
Miles, a senior walk-on running back, was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder when he returned from a yearlong tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2011. He is one of a handful of recent U.S. military veterans to return home and find a degree of normalcy by playing college football. Miles does his best to keep those two worlds from colliding.
He answers his younger teammates' questions about life in the military and war when they get curious, but he doesn’t raise the topic himself very often. He wasn’t aware of other players like Northwestern's Tom Hruby, a former Navy SEAL, who have also fought in the Middle East. He doesn’t volunteer much information about the 11 medals he won in the year he spent overseas. When the flashbacks come, no one knows but him.
"It’s a random thing. I can’t say how many times a week," Miles said. "Nobody really notices, because I won’t say anything. I just keep it to myself."
Eleven percent of Afghanistan war veterans have been diagnosed with PTSD, according to data from the Department of Veteran Affairs. Football and time haven’t done much to quell the symptoms that randomly pop up for Miles. Being part of a team and the regimen of practice, though, have helped give him a smoother transition back to civilian life.
The plan was always to use the GI Bill when his four years of enlisted service came to an end and to find a school where he could try out for football. The New Jersey native played running back for two years at Hammonton High School before signing up for the Army. He picked Maryland because it wasn’t too far from home.
Miles remembers getting some congratulations from fellow members of Bravo Troop 1-71 CAV when former Terps coach Randy Edsall invited him to join the team after a short tryout. He has earned scout team player of the week awards during each of his first three seasons, and teammates say his work ethic is a regular source of inspiration.
Down to his last semester before graduation, Miles’ goal remains the same as it has been since the NCAA cleared him to play after the 2012 season: Get on the field. A coaching change can be difficult for walk-ons who spend years battling for a chance to catch a coach’s eye. Miles said new Maryland coach D.J. Durkin and his staff have a style that feels more like the military, which obviously suits him well.
"I got some positive feedback from the coaches and everything like that [at end of spring practice]," he said. "I like [Durkin]. I guess he has a whole different mindset and attitude. It’s more toward the military attitude."
Miles is on schedule to get his degree from Maryland’s theater program shortly after he wraps up his final season with the Terps. He said he’d like to find his way into film or television acting after he leaves College Park.
"I’ve always wanted to act," Miles said. "I always put myself in roles in my imagination when I was younger, especially like action star roles."
He’s already played the war hero in real life. This fall he’ll try to add the underdog football story to his résumé.