Athletes are often looked upon as role models for young children, but in some cases the athletes that kids look up to, teammates do as well.
That has been the case for defensive end Brett Keisel. During his first 10 seasons he had the perfect role model and mentor in teammate Aaron Smith, and he still looks at Smith in the same light even after Smith retired last year.
“When I first got here he was someone I looked up to,” said Keisel. “He played the game the right way with pad level, technique. He wasn’t a dirty player. He was someone who was down to earth and came to work and worked his tail off every day.”
When hearing that Keisel viewed him as a mentor, Smith was taken aback. Smith always led by example, but he never tried to force his method of doing things on anyone.
“I am honored and a little shocked,” said Smith. “I always had a way of doing things and you always hope that someone catches on to doing things that way, what I would consider the right way. I think he has done that and expanded on it even more.
“That is something professional athletes should always hold on to. You don’t know whose life you will impact. I always just tried to lead by example. I always felt you would get more done by your actions than just by saying words. I am a big believer in that. It’s nothing I was looking to do, I just believed there was a way to conduct myself and be an example, especially for the younger guys.”
Keisel is one of several Steelers who recently shared the story of who his mentor is with the Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern Pennsylvania (MPSWPA) in celebration of January being National Mentoring Month. In addition to Aaron Smith, Keisel’s uncle, Ben Smith, who coached a rival football team also served as a mentor.
“He was someone who was always very encouraging to me,” said Keisel. “Every time we saw each other he helped me out with technique, with things off the field as far as being a good person and someone people could look up to. It meant a lot to me that even though we were rivals, he would help me out with the possibility that I could beat his team, which didn’t happen. He was a great man and someone as I grew up I truly appreciated.”
Keisel is grateful to both of his mentors, for his uncle for helping him along the way, and for Aaron Smith for providing an example that led to success with the Steelers.
“Since I got here I tried to be in his shadow,” said Keisel. “I tried to do everything he did. It’s got me 11 years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, two Super Bowl rings, a Pro Bowl. I owe him a lot.”