"Back deep to receive for ASU is Jamal Miles"
For Sun Devil fans, there are few phrases that can build immediate, edge-of-your-seat excitement than that one. Miles has proven to to be one of the rare players in college football who is a threat to take it to the endzone every single time he touches the ball.
A 99-yard kickoff return for touchdown against UCLA in 2010 was Miles first foray into the endzone, but it certainly wasn't his last. In the 2011 season opener against UC Davis, Miles took the second half kickoff 98 yards for a score.
Later in the season, Miles entered the ASU record books. Against Washington State, Miles wasted no time in taking the game's opening kickoff back 95 yards for a score. That marked his third career kickoff return touchdown, the most any Sun Devil has ever scored.
Not just a threat on kickoffs, Miles also scored a 78-yard touchdown on a punt return to break the game open against Oregon State last season. His 16.6 yards per punt return would have ranked him third in the nation had he had enough returns to qualify.
With another year to play, many have already called Miles the greatest return man in Sun Devil history. His 1,517 career yards on kickoff returns tied Rudy Burgess for the most in school history. With his production thus far, he certainly is in the mix now, and if he has another year like he did in 2011, the case may be closed. But for now, let's take a look at the other contenders for this title.
With four total touchdowns, Miles is tied for second in Sun Devil history to the dynamic Lenny Randle and his six scores. The explosive Randle had a sensational two-season run in 1968 and 1969. In 1968, Randle had two punt returns and one kickoff return for scores, and his 440 punt return yards that season are still a school record. The next season, he took a school-record three punts the distance.
One of the players that Miles is tied with for second place is the legendary Hall of Famer Mike Haynes. In 1974, he took both a kickoff and punt back for scores, and the following year he scored on a pair of punts. The other is Steve Holden, the school's all-time leader in punt return yardage with 1,120, accrued on an incredible 15.3 per-return average. All four of Holden's return scores were on punts.
One of ASU's all-time legends is also one of the best return men. Wilford White, known primarily as one of the school's best running backs with 3,173 yards (4th all-time) from 1947-1950, was also a lethal special teamer. On punt returns, White sweeps the school records for punt return average in a single game (42.0 vs. New Mexico in 1947), single season (21.9 in 1948) and career (17.7). On kickoff returns, he has the second-best career average (28.7) and took two kickoffs back for touchdowns.
A name more familiar to recent generations of Sun Devils is J.R. Redmond. The explosive Redmond was a threat in a variety of ways, including special teams. No Sun Devil has returned more punts than the 108 that Redmond did, in which he generated 986 yards and one touchdown. He also posted a good 23.7 yards-per-return on his 27 career kickoff returns.
Terry Richardson still holds the school record for career kickoff return average at 28.7, with a 100-yard touchdown against Oregon to his credit. He also had a sensational 13.2 average on punt returns and took a pair of them back for scores in 2005, earning him first-team All-Pac-10 honors.
The player that Miles has drawn the most comparisons to thanks to their do-it-all skillset is Burgess. In addition to his prowess as a runner, receiver and defensive back, Burgess was an exceptional return man. His 879 kickoff return yards in 2007 remain the ASU single season record, and no Sun Devil has posted more return yards in a game than Burgess' 166 versus USC that same year.
Other outstanding Sun Devil returners include Omar Bolden who scored two touchdowns on kickoffs despite just 17 career returns. Terry Battle averaged 29.1 yards on kickoffs and had a pair of touchdowns during his All-American year in 1996. Others such as Eric Guliford and John Harris had successful stints in this role.
As of now, it's difficult to pinpoint a clear recipient of the "best" title. Convincing arguments can be made for a number of these players who put the "special" in special teams, but if Miles can continue his ascent, he may just grab that moniker before all is said and done.
Hear "The Voice of Sun Devil football" Tim Healey's call of Miles' touchdown vs. UC Davis