- The Washington Times - Friday, November 20, 2009

It wasn’t that Miles Austin ended up at Monmouth University because he flew below college football’s recruiting radar.

“He was off the radar,” Monmouth coach Kevin Callahan said.

“It was just one of those things,” said Mark Fabish, a former Monmouth assistant who discovered and recruited Austin. “It worked out great.”

Great for the school immediately - and for Austin eventually. He became a star receiver for the Division I-AA Hawks, leading the team to successive 10-win seasons in 2003 and 2004. It remains the best two-year stretch since the small, private university first fielded a team in 1993. Callahan is the school’s first and only coach.

Located a Frisbee toss from some nice Atlantic beaches, Monmouth had never produced an NFL player until 2006, when Austin made the Dallas Cowboys’ roster as an undrafted free agent. He was off the radar then, too.

Three years later, mirroring his college career, he has emerged as one of the league’s top pass-catchers and success stories.

“He’d shown some of the things we thought he might be able to do,” said Dallas coach Wade Phillips, whose team plays the Washington Redskins on Sunday at Cowboys Stadium. “Although I think he’s exceeded what everybody thought he could do.”

In his first game as a starter, the speedy, 6-foot-3, 215-pound Austin caught 10 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns against Kansas City in Week 5 (He had just five catches going in.) It started a three-game stretch in which he had 21 receptions for 482 yards and five touchdowns. The yardage was the best three-game total by a Cowboys receiver, and that includes Bob Hayes, Michael Irvin and Terrell Owens.

With Austin no longer a secret, Philadelphia threw extensive double coverage at him for the first time two weeks ago. It worked - until he caught a fourth-quarter, 49-yard touchdown pass from Tony Romo, which turned out to be the decisive score in a 20-16 victory.

“He’s a new guy on the scene,” Green Bay cornerback Charles Woodson told reporters before the Cowboys played the Packers on Sunday. “People really haven’t paid much attention until now.”

The Packers did. In a poor effort by the Cowboys all around, Austin caught four passes for just 20 yards in a 17-7 loss. But he is still tied for second in the league in touchdown catches (seven), and his 20.4 average far exceeds anyone with at least as many catches (31).

No one could have foreseen this nearly a decade ago. In one of those purely-by-chance moments that turns out to impact a lot of lives, Fabish heard about Austin from a fellow assistant’s friend who knew the football coach at Garfield High School in northern New Jersey.

Austin only started playing football during his junior year at Garfield, not exactly a hot recruiting target despite producing NFL players Wayne Chrebet and Luis Castillo. Austin played safety but was better known as a sprinter, cross-country runner and basketball player. He impressed Fabish, now an assistant at Penn, with his speed and athletic ability. He weighed 200 pounds (on his way to 230) and ran 100 meters in 10.6 seconds.

“He stood out on film,” Fabish said.

As Austin began to gain more notice as a senior, Fabish maintained the inside track. Fordham and Villanova made their pitches, but Austin signed early with Monmouth during his senior year.

“He liked the persistence, maybe,” Fabish said. “He and I hit it off, and he felt comfortable with me.”

Callahan remembers thinking, “This guy is gonna make us better.”

Offensive coordinator Scott Van Zile, who was the Monmouth receivers coach, said: “That’s the first kid I saw here where I told people, ‘That’s what an NFL player looks like.’ We didn’t have players like that.”

Callahan said Austin had “all the tools.” He was raw but “very smart and very motivated in terms of wanting to learn.”

Added Van Zile: “He had that thing that most freshmen didn’t have - confidence. But a light-hearted confidence. He loved playing football.”

The coaches kept things simple during Austin’s freshman year. Later, he would work on refining his skills with then-Cowboys scout Jim Garrett, who lived nearby. He steadily improved, learning routes, coverages and how to control his body. He hired a trainer and went to the NFL combine. He looked great. The Cowboys, where Garrett’s son Jason used to play (and returned as offensive coordinator in 2007), said they might draft him. They didn’t. No one did.

“There was skepticism about Monmouth being a relatively new football school,” Callahan said.

Austin eventually signed with Dallas, made the team and started slimming down. He played well on special teams and patiently waited his turn throughout the failed Owens experiment, the Roy Williams trade and the chances afforded others. A big game against the Packers (two catches, 115 yards) last season flashed his potential as a receiver.

This year, with Owens in Buffalo and Williams and Patrick Crayton underachieving, his moment finally arrived.

“He’s got great speed, and he’s a bright kid,” said Fox analyst and Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman, who lives in the Dallas area and stays in close touch with his old team. “He’s always got a smile on his face; he enjoys playing. He’s an unselfish player. He’s all the thing a coach or a quarterback or a teammate has got to like.”

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