ALLEN PARK, Mich. — When Miles Killebrew was young, he tried playing soccer, and it became obvious rather quickly that it wasn’t for him.
“I learned how to slide tackle,” he said. “So I was just hitting everybody whether they had the ball or not, and I actually got red carded. . I had to have been like 4 or 5 years old, getting red carded, kicked out of games. So that’s when my parents moved me to football.”
Killebrew’s love of contact has now taken him all the way to the NFL. He was drafted in the fourth round by the Detroit Lions, and the Southern Utah product is hoping to contribute right away as a safety.
Killebrew was downright giddy on his conference call with Lions reporters on the day he was drafted, and his personable demeanor in interviews could make him a fan favorite in Detroit if he plays well on the field. His style of play should go over pretty well too. He’s listed at 6-foot-2 and 217 pounds — and he enjoys causing some serious collisions.
“That’s one of the best parts of football — a great, solid, clean hit,” he said Thursday at the Lions’ practice facility.
Killebrew was credited with a team-high 132 tackles (74 solo) last season. Lions general manager Bob Quinn was asked recently if he could be considered a safety-linebacker hybrid.
“We’re just looking for good defensive backs and linebackers,” Quinn said. “Now, we’re going to be in sub defense, nickel defense for close to 70 percent of the time, so to get a guy that’s his size, that can run as fast as he can run, you know, hopefully he can have a role covering tight ends. But in our base defense, he’s not going to be a linebacker.”
The big challenge for Killebrew, of course, will be adjusting to a different level of competition after playing in the Big Sky Conference. Southern Utah actually had two players drafted this year — cornerback LeShaun Sims went to Tennessee in the fifth round.
Killebrew was leaving for his graduation when he was picked, and the news of Southern Utah’s draft success apparently caused a bit of a stir.
“We weren’t up there yet, but there was a ceremony going on, and so, from what I heard, a lot of my fellow classmates actually had their phone and they were watching, and they were keeping up,” Killebrew said. “As soon as our names got called, there was a roar in the arena, which was kind of cool, and right when we got up there, there was nothing short of an awesome acceptance for us.”
After being a star at a smaller program, Killebrew is now simply an untested rookie in the pros, and he’ll need to prove he can handle the fundamentals of playing defense in the NFL. The big hits, as much as he enjoys them, don’t happen often at any level. What will really stand out for coaches is how well he handles his assignments — and the more mundane task of making tackles that won’t necessarily show up on a highlight reel.
“It’s rare that you get one just perfectly lined up, well-timed-out hit, but when it comes, it’s a blessing. I love it,” he said. “But every other hit, every other tackle, has to be a form tackle. That’s what I look forward to learning from the coaches here.”