Former Casa Grande and Santa Rosa Junior College standout linebacker Miles Gardea will travel across country to continue his education and football career at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston.

Gardea said his first contact with the Division 1-AA school, which plays in the Colonial Athletic Association, came through SRJC coach Leonard Wagner.

After being put in touch with the Rhode Island coaches, Gardea made his official visit to the school and came away impressed. “Rhode Island isn’t too different from here,” he said. “I really like the college campus. It is very nice and they have excellent athletic facilities.”

Gardea acknowledges that the Rams have had a difficult time in recent years, going 2-9 last season, but he said he looks forward to the challenge of helping them turn things around.

“I want to help them improve and change the culture,” he said. “I know they have some good guys coming in.”

The Petaluman and his family were twice visited by Rhode Island defensive coordinator Pete Redkstis, who told the player the college team was looking forward to him being the starting middle linebacker next fall. Gardea will receive a full scholarship.

Gardea has also been impressed with what he has seen of the coaching staff. “They are legit,” he said.

He already is looking forward to the Rams’ first game of the season on Sept. 2 and especially to their third game on Sept. 16 when they play Harvard. “It is going to be exciting playing against a school as prestigious as Harvard,” he said.

Gardea will receive an associates degree in communications before transferring, and plans to continue that course of study at Rhode Island. After his final semester at the community college, he plans to spend a couple of weeks with his friends before heading to his new college early in the summer.

He says going to SRJC was one of the best decisions he ever made, both as a football player and a student.

“I can’t imagine moving across country and living on my own at 17,” he says. “The experience I had at JC was invaluable.”

Gardea had a big sophomore season for the Bear Cubs, earning All-Big 6 Conference honors.

At Casa Grande, he was the North Bay League Defensive Player of the Year, leading one of the best Casa Grande teams ever to a 13-1 record and the North Bay League championship in his senior season.

An excellent all-around athlete, he also played basketball, lacrosse and baseball and was on two Casa Grande state-champion lacrosse teams.