The Steelers kick off their voluntary offseason workouts at the team’s practice facility at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex on Monday. This portion is focused mainly on conditioning.
The voluntary offseason program continues through OTA’s, which begin on May 21 and includes 10 days of on-field drills, with no contact permitted. The team will hold their mini-camp June 11-13.
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Steelers’ wide receiver Antonio Brown and former running back Jerome Bettis are both in the running for the Madden NFL 25 box cover.
In celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the “Madden” video game, the cover has 32 current players going against 32 legends of the game, with all teams represented.
In the first round Bettis is up against former New York Jets running back Curtis Martin, while Brown goes against New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Voting is now open at Madden NFL 25.
Tags: Antonio Brown, Jerome Bettis, NFL Madden 25
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Washington, who played 12 seasons in the league including six for the Steelers, has remained a fan since his playing days ended. Now he is looking to take it to another level.
Washington will be among 11 former and one current NFL players taking part in the Tom Beard Football Officials Clinic in Baltimore this week. And Washington isn’t going just for the fun of it. He has a genuine interest in pursuing a career as an official at some level.
“There is no doubt I am a true fan of the game,” said Washington. “That is where my passion lies. I know I wanted to get back close to it at some point in time and hopefully this is the right time. I’ve had an interest in it for a while. Even back when I was playing I went to an officiating school in Tampa, dabbled in it and looked at it from afar. When I got an email last year about this clinic, I thought it would be a good chance to give it a harder look.
“I really want to see if this is the road I want to go down. I know I won’t start in the NFL, more in high school or college. I want to come out of it this week and know if this is something I want to have as a second career for myself. If all goes well, I am at a point I want to pursue it.”
The clinic, which is offered to players by NFL Player Engagement and the NFL Football Officiating Academy, will include classroom and on-field instruction, conducted by current and former officials at all levels.
“There are a lot of intricacies to officiating,” said Washington. “That is what I am hoping to pick up this week. We are going to see exactly what they are doing on a play in, play out basis. The one I went to in Tampa was a precursor. There is more to it than meets the eye.”
Washington, who owns D. Washington Group, a construction company in Durham, North Carolina, encourages today’s players and former players to take advantage of opportunities like this one the NFL offers. He knows the experience and lessons learned can be invaluable.
“When I was playing I took advantage of the program they offered at the Wharton School of Business,” said Washington. “That opened my eyes to a lot of different things from a business perspective. You need to take a sneak peek at what you want to might dabble in when the playing days are done.”
Washington feels those taking part in the clinic would definitely have the skills to be officials, knowing the game inside and out from their playing days.
“I think I am ready for it,” said Washington. “Former players will make good referees. Not to say other people who didn’t play the game won’t, but I think I will know what to look for, especially when it comes to those pass interference calls. I think I can be unbiased in the decisions that need to be made, especially at the pace they need to be made.
“I think it’s a natural fit. At least that is what I feel going into it. There is a lot from my 25 years of playing football that should fit and shouldn’t make it a tough transition at all.”
And the most important fit might simply be keeping him involved in the game he loves.
“You are close to the game without being in the game,” said Washington. “You are in between the white lines and that gives you that rush you had when you were a player.”
Tags: Dewayne Washington
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Former Steelers running back Carey Davis has always had an interest in the movie business, taking acting classes in both high school and college and even doing some theater productions while still at the University of Illinois.
But football was a passion of his, and when he was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in 2004 and later went on to play three seasons for the Steelers (2007-09), acting was placed on the backburner.
Now that his football career is behind him Davis is pursuing a career in acting, and will be among 22 current and former NFL players taking part in the second annual NFL Pro Hollywood Boot Camp at Universal Studios in Universal City, California, from March 11-15.
“When I got done with football I was weighing my options and thought acting would be a good opportunity for me,” said Davis. “I was always interested in theater, film and movies. I never really had the opportunity or time to focus on that aspect because of football. When you are playing football that is your main focus and your main goal is to train and prepare for blitzing linebackers. That is where my focus was. Once I got done playing there was an opportunity and I jumped on it.
“This boot camp is the type of deal where they are helping the people who are looking to expand their career or go in a different direction other than football. I am pretty excited about it.”
The boot camp, which is being conducted by NFL Player Engagement and Film Life Inc., a New York based film production company, will cover a wide range of topics relating to the movie industry, including screen writing, directing, producing and film financing.
“I definitely believe those aspects will help as far as acting goes,” said Davis. “It’s always good to know what the director or coach is looking for so your performance on screen can be better. I am definitely going to look into that and learn as much about that aspect, as well as the others. It’s an opportunity to do something you love.”
Davis has some commercial appearances to his credit, including one that is currently running for Sylvan Learning Center that he has received a lot of feedback on. He has done print ads, including a brochure for Extended Stay America, and is excited about a recently completed independent movie he has the lead role in.
“Hopefully that will be coming out soon,” said Davis. “We are working on the distribution of it now and trying to get it in different places like Redbox and NetFlix.
“My ultimate goal would be to be in films. I enjoy the craft. I enjoy being able to portray different characters. It’s always exciting to see how a role can change in film or TV. You have characters that start out one way and by the end you are looking at them in a different light. I like to portray different characters and have fun with it.”
Among those conducting sessions at the boot camp will be director/producer Peter Berg, writer/actor/director Robert Townsend and Legendary Pictures partner/producer and member of the Steelers ownership group Thomas Tull. Davis has already had meetings with Tull about his career, and is looking forward to learning more from him.
“He was asking me what I wanted to do as far as acting,” said Davis. “He knows where I want to be and what I want to do. It will be exciting to have more time to talk to him and pick his brain about the film industry.
“He has told me to just continue to push forward. He has given me advice about talking to casting directors and making sure you form a relationship with them. Hard work is one of the main things he told me. There are a lot of people in Los Angeles that take things for granted. If you are willing to work hard and put in the time you can be extremely successful in this business.”
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Former Steelers’ wide receiver Hines Ward made a guest appearance on AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” but you would have to watch closely to know it was him.
Ward underwent a transformation to be a zombie on the show, which aired on Sunday night.
“It was an amazing experience,” said Ward. “Just being in makeup preparing me for my role was cool. I actually scared myself when I looked in the mirror for the first time after.”
Ward previously appeared on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars,” and the Food Network show “Rachael vs. Guy,” as well as having a cameo in “The Dark Knight Rises,” in a scene filmed at Heinz Field.
Tags: Hines Ward
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“Jerome was a linebacker that played running back,” said Porter, talking this week from his home in California. “It’s that simple. Jerome was a physical guy. Most backs went away from traffic, linebackers love traffic. Jerome loved traffic. Running backs get in the hole and dodge guys. He would shake a guy every now and then to make fun of them and show he is big and can shake you.”
Porter remembers the days during training camp at St. Vincent College when he had to try and bring Bettis down. Porter, who has never shied away from talking smack on the field, was often left without anything to say after going against Bettis.
“There were times I went against him in practice and he got the best of me,” said Porter. “I couldn’t say anything. I would just walk back to the huddle. I couldn’t feel my shoulders. But I tried to never let him see that. I would always play the next play so he didn’t know he hurt me. I would not go out of practice. I always forced myself to play one more play to make it look like I went down because of something else, but most of the time it was because I got hit by him and my shoulders were hurting.
“It got worse and worse as his career went on because he got bigger. That was Bus though. He was going to run hard, he was a low to the ground guy. He was going to bring it every single time. He was thick. He wasn’t a running back you wanted to tackle every day.”
It was those days, especially early in Porter’s career that helped mold him into the player he became. He said he learned so much from Bettis and that going against him made him gave him the confidence he needed.
“He groomed me,” said Porter. “When I was on scout team my biggest challenge was going against Jerome in practice and being able to know where he was going, go against him in one-on-ones and attempt to hit him in practice. It helped let me know if I was ready. If I got the respect out of him, then I was all right. He gave me that early in my career. We developed a lifetime relationship and I had to earn that. He gave me all of the confidence I had in practice.
“I was going against a future Hall of Famer and I knew that my rookie year.”
It things go the way Porter sees fit, then Hall of Famer will be a description soon attached to Bettis and by far, the most accurate and deserving one. Bettis is a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2013, which is set to be announced this Saturday in New Orleans, and Porter is still stunned he hasn’t gotten in the previous two years he was a finalist.
“There are other big running backs that played the game, but not like he did, not with the level of success he had for 13 seasons, being the man for that long at a high level,” said Porter. “He was a power back. A lot of guys claim to be a power back, but he was one. He earned every yard he has. He ran hard. He caught the ball. He scored touchdowns. He won the Super Bowl. He was a first round pick.
“He did all you could do. He should have been in there the first time out.”
Tags: Hall of Fame, Jerome Bettis, Joey Porter
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“I remember meeting up with him one time and I gave him a hug and I was like ‘Oh my gosh,’” said Hoge, who played for the Steelers from 1987-93 and is now an NFL analyst for ESPN. “To get your arms around this dude was not easy. And him running with a full head of steam…oh my gosh what a defender had to deal with. He was a unique beast. To get your arms around him would be a large task and with a full head of steam, it would be so much harder.
“I feel bad for the defenders. You have to be a big man to take him on and win and get back up and talk about it. To wrap up on him, wow. His quickness and size made it tough. People couldn’t get their arms around him. You can’t wrap him up. You had to get around his legs. If you dealt with his shoulder area, you could forget it.”
While Hoge never had to worry about trying to stop Bettis, former Steelers’ linebacker Jerry Olsavsky was faced with that task at times in practice. And he can tell you, it wasn’t easy.
“When you are six inches away from the guy and you say I got him and you don’t hit him, you wonder how did that happen,” said Olsavsky, now a defensive assistant with the team. “People talk about how he was a good bowler and I think that helped him because his feet were so good.
“I loved him because he had two options, he could beat you outside or he could run you over. I remember him playing here in the first Monday Night game he ever played in. He wasn’t starting for us and we rolled him out and it was like the brand new Corvette comes out with the big rammer on the front. He made a couple of guys miss and he gave the shake and ran them over. I liked watching that as a defensive player. He was good. He made you better.”
Hoge never played with Bettis, his career ending prior to Bettis arriving in Pittsburgh. But he played against Bettis’ Los Angeles Rams team in 1993, watching the rookie running back rush for a 29-yard touchdown in his second NFL game in a 27-0 Rams win. He also watched Bettis as his career developed, particularly during his Steelers’ years, and has always marveled at what he could do.
“He had tremendous feet,” said Hoge. “His lateral movement was great for any size. He could play between the tackles, which in the NFL is the majority of where you play. The combination of his size, power and quickness allowed him to be extremely unique and rare.”
While Hoge loved what Bettis did on the field, he also has the utmost respect for him off the field. Just like anyone who has met Bettis, Hoge glowingly talks about the type of person he is and the type of leader he was for the team, particularly being the driving force behind the team’s run to becoming Super Bowl XL champions.
“Jerome wasn’t much of a talker,” said Hoge. “You can talk all of you want, but you can’t pronounce leadership. People will be motivated maybe for a moment by words, but they are sustained by action, how a person prepared, the things he did. Those are the things that I am sure resonated with that team. All of the things that he had done, that people witnessed him doing to get ready every Sunday is what was impactful to them and what meant the most. If someone was a phony and just got up and gave a speech, players aren’t fools. They think whatever.
“Players respected Jerome. He set that standard. He didn’t have to say anything, people watching him and witnessing him, that inspired them.”
Hoge hopes now that the Pro Football Hall of Fame voters are equally inspired and they will give Bettis his just due when the Class of 2013 is announced this Saturday in New Orleans.
“Jerome did it at a high level for a long time in a physical nature which is rare,” said Hoge. “That style fades fast, but he didn’t. His brutal and punishing style of running, guys like that usually only play seven or eight years. That stands out as a unique and rare quality he had. And some of his most signature runs came in his last years. Running over guys is one thing, but when you run over a guy like (Bears linebacker) Brian Urlacher, that’s another story.
“His style, how he did it, and how long he did it are the things that stand out the most. He was as rare as they come.”
Tags: Hall of Fame, Jerome Bettis, Jerry Olsavsky, Merril Hoge
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At the time Larry Foote really didn’t know that his life could be heading down a dangerous path. He was attending Pershing High School in Detroit, Michigan, but school was not a priority. Hanging out on the streets, being with his friends, that was what life was all about.
That was until he met the man that changed things for him, that changed the direction his life was heading. That is when he met the man that would be his mentor, Pastor Joel Gregory, a youth pastor in Southfield, Michigan.
“I met him when I was in high school in the midst of when I was my craziest,” said Foote. “My future wasn’t looking bright. I don’t think college was an option. I was playing sports, but I was in the streets too and following a group of guys I shouldn’t have been and wasn’t taking life seriously.”
Foote had met others before who tried to steer him away from the streets and put his faith in God in an effort to turn things around. But Gregory was different, and Foote immediately connected with him.
“Not only did he preach the word of God that got my attention, but during that time I wasn’t attracted to the church life and doing things the right way, I was doing what the streets were doing,” said Foote. “He was the first guy that was cool that made it attractive. I had never seen anyone that looked like me, talked like me, and had my kind of swag that loved God too. I thought this guy is cool like the neighborhood guys, he is just preaching a different message.”
Foote would attend youth bible study and soon the results started to show. He wasn’t spending time on the streets, he was focusing on school and even teachers noticed a difference in him.
“He saved my life,” said Foote. “It was at a crucial time. I had to get out of the neighborhood. I was gifted, could play ball, but I wasn’t taking life seriously. I was still caught up in the street life. When God got my attention at that age I put my priorities in line just in the nick of time. I started taking school and sports seriously and colleges started calling. My life took off at that point. I started leaving my foolish things alone and my life took off because of the example Pastor Gregory showed me.”
Foote is one of several Steelers who recently shared their story of who his mentor is with the Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern Pennsylvania (MPSWPA) in celebration of January being National Mentoring Month. And in his case, his relationship with Gregory is one that was definitely life changing.
“Who knows, with what I was doing I could have been shot at any time,” said Foote. “Even when I go back to the neighborhood today I see guys on the street, on the corner begging for change, hear about guys who were murdered. There are guys I went to school with dead or in jail. It’s the reality. When you are in high school you hear people say that guy is going to end up in jail or dead, but you haven’t lived through it. It’s just rhetoric. But as every year goes by I hear about that happening to someone.
“Pastor Gregory got me in line. I took things seriously with God, and he took care of my stuff and my heart. Pastor Gregory showed me how to act, how to pray. That is why I am where I am today, he showed me that example.”
Tags: Larry Foote
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In his first training camp with the Steelers, Jerome Bettis knew right away he was in an offense where he could flourish. The Steelers and Coach Bill Cowher loved the power running game and Bettis’ eyes lit up every day in practice when he saw the potential that existed.
“I know what a back would be capable of doing in an offense like this,” said Bettis in August, 1996, just months after being traded to the Steelers from the St. Louis Rams on draft day and before he ever stepped foot on the field in the black and gold.
He wasted no time making good on those words. In his first season in Pittsburgh Bettis led the Steelers in rushing with 1,431 yards on 320 carries and 11 touchdowns while winning the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year award.
Out of the gate Bettis appeared to be just a classic big back, but beneath the surface he was far more. For a player of his size and style, he was fleet of foot and had the agility running backs covet.
“I have never seen a power back that was as light on their feet as he was,” said Cowher. “He would make jump cuts in the hole and his shoulders were never anything but parallel to the line of scrimmage. He could see things and get there on his feet. He had the lightest feet for a big back I have ever seen playing the game.”
Bettis managed to use those light feet to rush for 10,571 yards with the Steelers, bringing his 13 year career total to 13,662, which ranks sixth overall in NFL history. He had eight 1,000 yard seasons in his career, leading the Rams in rushing all three of his seasons there and the Steelers in rushing eight times. In a day and age when a bruising back doesn’t last long, he was able to sustain a successful 13-year career because of the way he played the game, delivering the pounding more often than taking it.
“The great thing about Jerome was you rarely saw him take a hit,” said Cowher. “He was always the one who initiated the hit. He had a great sense of balance, a great sense of forward lean. Most of the time he was the one that was able to initiate hits. There were times in the fourth quarter when all he had to do was make a little snip step and he could make people miss because they had to brace for him. I have never seen a guy who could make people miss in a hole better than him. He could go sideways when he needed to. But the biggest thing he had was his sense of balance and his forward lean.”
Cowher will be among those keeping a close eye on what happens in New Orleans this Saturday, when the Hall of Fame voters will decide if this is finally Bettis’ turn. He has been a finalist each of the three years he has been eligible, and Cowher thinks it’s his time and that Bettis should be a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2013.
“I think it’s three years overdue so it would be a travesty if he doesn’t get in because he is one of the great running backs that has played in the National Football League,” said Cowher. “There is not a stat that you can produce that doesn’t back that up.”
But Cowher thinks there are reasons far beyond the impressive numbers that should land Bettis on the steps of the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio late this summer. While Bettis put up the numbers of a superstar, he never had the attitude of one. He was a blue-collar worker, a team-first guy all the way.
“If I had 53 guys like him I could coach for 30 years,” said Cowher. “He was a joy to be around. He was the voice of the team. He set the tone. When your leader is one of your best workers, and he was that, it makes coaching easy. He was very dependable, reliable and obviously very productive. The way he led, he was a worker on the field. He had very natural leadership abilities and it was infectious on the field. He was a mentor when he needed to be, he inspired when he needed to.”
Never was that inspiration more noticeable than during the Steelers run in the 2005 season, which culminated in winning Super Bowl XL. Bettis’ teammates knew it was going to be his last year playing, and they wanted nothing more than to win the Super Bowl in his hometown of Detroit, Michigan, allowing him to go out on top.
Bettis wasn’t a starter that year, instead giving way to a younger, speedier Willie Parker, but he accepted his role of coming in and getting the short yardage, scoring when they had the ball close to the goal line, and thriving in the role. And despite all of the other talent on offense, he was still the identity the identity of it.
“It made it very easy as a coach to ask people to accept roles when you had one of the greatest running backs to play the game do the same,” said Cowher. “Jerome Bettis was taking the back seat and playing a specific role. How he led by example, the way he accepted his position on the team, was who he was. I have never been a part of a team where one of your biggest leaders didn’t start and that was the case with Jerome that particular year. He was our finisher, our closer. It was a role not only he embraced, but our team embraced. He became an inspiring presence on our team. We all wanted him to finish his career on top. When you saw his humility, the sacrifices he made at times in his role, sacrifices he made to make sure he would stay with the Steelers. This guy’s middle name was team. He was a team player who played at a high level, but did what he had to do as his career went on. It’s so refreshing in today’s game to see a guy put his own self interest on the back burner for what’s in the best interest of the team.
“His teammates not only recognized that, but appreciated it. The drive we had to win that championship was inspired by Jerome Bettis.”
And now Cowher feels the same as all of those that were a part of the Super Bowl XL team, all who played with Bettis during his career, and a lot that played against him. They feel like Jerome Bettis should be in the Hall of Fame.
“I have never seen a big man, a power back who can run light on his feet like this guy,” said Cowher. “He was special, he was durable, he was dependable, and he was selfless.
“When you look at today’s game you look at great players, and great players do it over a period of time. He did that. Great players have a way of inspiring those around him. He did that. Great players produce numbers that put them in the elite. He did that. How can you ask any player to do more than that?”
Tags: Bill Cowher, Jerome Bettis
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As Brett Keisel walked into Kyla Ruffing’s room at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, the shy eight-year old looked surprised, and then broke into a sweet smile as she looked at the big guy standing beside her hospital bed.
When asked who it was, she didn’t say Keisel, but instead gave a much simpler answer, “The Beard.”
“It was amazing,” said her mother Danielle Nagel. “I was really blown away. I wasn’t expecting him to walk through the door. It was great to see him.”
Ruffling quietly talked with Keisel, showing him what she was building with Lego’s. Then she slowly started coming out of her shell, pulling out the reason she knows him as “The Beard,” her own oversized beard she put on to compare to Keisel’s. Keisel admired the look, the two smoothed out their beards, and he even signed a team photo for her that read, “You have the best beard I have ever seen.”
“It was awesome,” said Keisel, who also enjoyed seeing other patients on the floor play with their beards. “To see them play along with it, they had so much fun with it. Kyla was so filled with life and joy. When so much is happening that she could be filled with negativity, she was exuberant and joyous and lifted me up. Seeing them run around with their beards and turning around and making them into mullets, it was awesome.”
It’s Keisel’s beard that has incredible meaning for the kids at Children’s Hospital, particularly those on the oncology floor where he visited. In another week he will shave off the beard at his annual “Shear Da Beard” event, and all proceeds go to cancer programs at the hospital.
“It’s great,” said Dr. Jake Cooper, the attending physician in hematology and oncology. “Our floor is full always. We do our best to keep the kids happy and distracted when they are going through some tough medications and serious diagnosis. Having a local hero like Mr. Keisel show up is a wonderful surprise for the kids to have.”
Keisel went room to room, giving the kids Steelers teddy bears, bracelets and signed team photos, but also giving them smiles, hugs and love. And they gave him something much more.
“Every time I go in there I can’t help but get filled with emotion,” said Keisel. “The things these families and kids have to go through with their treatment, it’s very tough. It does fill me with emotion, but it fills me with pride at the same time knowing I am helping in a small way.”
He is helping in a much greater way than he realizes. It’s not just the financial impact that shaving the beard has, it goes far deeper.
“It’s a symbol, it’s a yearly tradition and the people here know it’s for them,” said Cooper. “The people here view his huge mammoth beard as a sign of his affection for Children’s Hospital and his support for all of our patients. They love it. You see a lot of fake beards being worn by the kids for solidarity and team spirit.”
And they are beards that will lovingly be worn long after Keisel shaves his off.
Keisel and Kyla Ruffing.
Keisel and 15-year old Jeremy Coast.
Keisel and 11-year old Jetta Moore
Tags: Brett Keisel
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Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch is a finalist for the Byron “Whizzer” White Award, an honor given by the NFL Players Association to a player for their work in the community.
“It’s humbling,” said Batch. “To be a finalist for the highest award you can receive from the NFLPA is special. To be considered one of those guys is special.”
Batch started his Best of the Batch Foundation 12 years ago, serving those in the Pittsburgh area, including Homestead where he was raised. The foundation provides an array of services, from computer literacy programs to summer basketball leagues.
“I am blessed to play here for this organization and be this close to home, allowing me to be hands on with everything I am doing with the foundation and have people believe in me,” said Batch. “I can’t do this by myself. We go out there and try to change lives and when people see that, it’s even more humbling.”
Batch has been able to see the impact the foundation has had on kids and looks forward to continuing to develop and grow the foundation.
“A lot of kids started with us when they were seven or eight years old and we see kids graduating from high school and heading off to college,” said Batch. “When you see the kids growing up, and them getting the opportunity to go out and live their dreams, that is what we are all about. We want to have them reach beyond their expectations.”
Batch is one of five finalists along with Chad Greenway (Minnesota Vikings), Charles Tillman (Chicago Bears), Benjamin Watson (Cleveland Browns) and Jason Witten (Dallas Cowboys). All of the finalists will receive a donation to their charity and the winner, who will be announced by the NFLPA next week in New Orleans, will receive an additional $100,000 donation.
Tags: Charlie Batch
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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.”
Tags: Aaron Smith, Brett Keisel
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Dermontti Dawson knows what Jerome Bettis is going through right now as he went through the same thing the last few years, waiting to see if this will be the year the Hall of Fame will become a reality.
Dawson, the former Steelers center who was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2012, was a finalist the three years prior to his election. Each year when he didn’t get in, he knew he just had to be patient and wait his turn and his time would hopefully come.
“That is something I always told people when I was considered,” said Dawson. “You just have to be patient. You put in the hard work and it’s just a matter of time. It’s out of your control. You just have to wait your turn. When they feel you are ready to go in, they will elect you in.”
Bettis, the former Steelers running back who is number sixth all-time in the NFL in rushing, is a finalist for the third straight year and Dawson thinks it’s his turn and he is more than ready to be a member of the Hall of Fame.
“Jerome has put in the work and he is worthy of being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame,” said Dawson. “With his stats, he has put in the work to qualify.”
Bettis began his career with the Los Angeles Rams in 1993 but had his best days once he was traded to the Steelers on draft day in 1996. Bettis was the Steelers leading rusher from 1996-2001 and 2003-04, amassing 50 100-yard games with the team. He rushed for 10,571 yards with the Steelers, and 13,662 career yards.
Bettis’ first year of eligibility he was on the list with running backs Marshall Faulk and Curtis Martin. Faulk, who is 10th in NFL history with 12,279 rushing yards, was elected in 2011 and Martin, who ranks fourth with 14,101 yards, was inducted in 2012. Bettis is the only running back among the list of finalists this year.
“I think he should be in there this year,” said Dawson. “We would like for him to be in, but it’s up to the writers. Do I think he should be in there? Yes. There are guys in there he has more yards than and better stats to justify him being in there.”
Among the NFL’s top 10 all-time leading rushers only Bettis and LaDainian Tomlinson are not in the Hall of Fame, and Tomlinson, who retired in 2011, is not yet eligible.
The Class of 2013 will be announced on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013, the day before Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Dawson hopes to hear Bettis’ name announced.
“He was a feature back for 13 years in the league,” said Dawson. “What made him unusual being a larger than normal back, he was so agile and strong he could take the pounding and be the feature back all of that time. He was a phenomenal runner.
“He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame this year.”
Tags: Dermontti Dawson, Jerome Bettis
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Safety Will Allen doesn’t hesitate when it comes to helping out today’s youth, especially trying to provide them guidance through the Quest for Real Life Success program which strives to build awareness and help young people in the community as a part of the Will Allen Foundation,
The after school mentoring program, which he ran this year at North Hills High School in Pittsburgh and Wayne High School in Dayton, Ohio, was set up to discuss topics to help the students prepare for life after high school. The programs place emphasis on test taking skills, resume writing, job interview skills and also stress community service.
“I wanted to do something to help them be more proactive about their futures, to help them think outside the box and thinking more about being a young professional going into college,” said Allen of the program he began when he played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “I wanted to bridge the gap going from high school to college so they can be better decision makers, be more cognizant of opportunities and tools and resources that are available.”
Allen learned the importance of being a mentor from his father, Keith Allen, and 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.
“We’re grateful to continue our partnership with the Pittsburgh Steelers to learn more about how mentoring has impacted players’ lives,” said Kristan Allen, director of marketing and communications for MPSWPA “The Steelers organization is a defining part of our region’s history and we’re so fortunate that it is built on a foundation of giving back to the community.”
For Will Allen, having his father a part of the community when he was growing up made him realize the importance of giving back. His father coached youth sports and Allen has always taken pride in seeing others benefit from his father’s leadership, as well as himself.
“He always taught me how to be humble,” said Allen of his father. “He would always teach me right from wrong, leadership, respecting others around me.
“I saw him be a role model and mentor in my neighborhood, helping kids become a better person. To see people come back and remember what Coach Allen said to help them means a lot. As a youngster I didn’t pay as much attention to him because I was hearing it every day. Once I got older I realized he had an impact on people’s lives from encouraging words.”
His father also stressed the importance of education to him, part of the reason he graduated from Ohio State University.
“One of the key moments I will remember in my life is when he sat me down as a youngster and would tell me about education, and the importance of education,” recalled Allen. “He would never let me bring a C in the home. Even though he was a diligent worker, he didn’t have a college education but he wanted one for me. He pushed me in sports, but especially in academics.”
The Mentoring Partnership serves 140 youth mentoring programs in the Pittsburgh region, including working with United Way agencies, and Allen hopes that others will reach out and become mentors.
“I ask you go out and pay it forward and mentor someone, especially a young person and teach them about life skills and how they can become better,” said Allen.
Tags: Will Allen
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Steelers’ center Maurkice Pouncey and long snapper Greg Warren were named to the USA Football All-Fundamentals Team. The team honors 26 NFL players, 11 each on offense and defense and four on special teams, who exhibit the fundamentals and techniques of football that provide proper examples for youth football players.
Pouncey, who was just voted to his third Pro Bowl, has continued to grow in all areas since his rookie season, something that hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“He’s a football player,” said offensive coordinator Todd Haley. “I mean that in a way – when he came out of college, if you just relied on his timing, speed and his combine numbers, he’d be just another guy. But when the pads are on, he’s special. His football playing ability at his position doesn’t add up to the measurables, so to speak. It comes down to, when you are evaluating these guys, they better be good football players. He is just that. I didn’t know that about him. That’s even more impressive.
“We see it every day. You just don’t want to take it for granted, because he is special. He is a really smart player. He helps a bunch of other guys. He is very athletic. When his pads are on, he allows you to do things you wouldn’t be able to with other players at his position.”
Warren, in his eighth season out of North Carolina, has been a stabilizing force on the Steelers’ special teams unit, working with several different place kickers and punters during his time with the Steelers.
Pouncey and Warren will receive a $1,500 grant from USA Football to donate to the youth or high school program of their choice.
The two are also eligible to win the All-Fundamentals Team Captain award, which will be determined by a fan vote. Fans can vote for one captain on offense, defense and special teams and each of the three winners will receive a $3,000 equipment grant for them to donate. Fans can vote now through Jan. 21 at www.facebook.com/usafootball.
Tight end Heath Miller, safety Troy Polamalu and linebacker LaMarr Woodley have all been named to the All-Fundamentals team over the last three years.
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If Will Allen had his way, he would be spending this week in team meetings, on the practice field and watching film through the night, getting ready for a playoff game this weekend or next.
But unfortunately things didn’t go as planned this season, and instead of practicing he is preparing to head off into an offseason of uncertainty for the free agent safety.
“I still feel like I have to get ready for this week,” said Allen. “I am kind of at a loss for words. I think we missed out on a lot of opportunities this year. We had some very strong points but some very low points as well. We have to evaluate and get better this offseason. We need to press hard and come together as a team, so we can face those adverse situations better, and those critical moments in games where we didn’t execute well.”
Allen was called upon heavily this season not just to play in situational defenses, but to start seven games when Troy Polamalu was injured and saw extended playing time as Polamalu was slowly worked back into the lineup.
“I was able to help the team the best way I could,” said Allen. “That’s what I am here for, to help the team win and help the team the best way I can. I am thankful for the opportunity. There are still many ways I can get better and this team can get better. We just have to get better in the critical moments of a game.”
The defense finished ranked No. 1 overall in the NFL, first against the pass and second against the rush. But they weren’t satisfied. The defense was 12th in the AFC with 20 takeaways, an even mix of 10 interceptions and fumble recoveries, and 25th overall in the NFL. It’s an area Allen knows has to pick up next year.
“The lack of turnovers on defense this year, we didn’t make enough,” said Allen. “We didn’t make enough at all. We started getting them later this season. That helped our offense be more opportunistic. Next year, I think we need to focus on that from day one. To have the number-one defense and number-one pass defense two consecutive years is tremendous. I just think we need to get our turnover ratio up.”
Allen is one of 18 players who will become a free agent in March and knows there could be opportunities for him to potentially be a full-time starter elsewhere, but also knows what he has in Pittsburgh.
“The Steelers organization is great,” said Allen. “I really have enjoyed my time here. I’ve enjoyed the team. It’s a lot of fun. I love to compete here. I love the fans. It’s a hard place to leave. Even if they let you go it’s a hard place to leave. When that time comes, when March comes, I will sit back and think about what decision to make.”
Allen said he doesn’t have to talk to other players who have left via free agency, including linebacker Larry Foote who left and came back, to know how special it is to play for the Steelers.
“It’s very hard to leave you once you’ve been here,” said Allen. “I really don’t know what will happen. I want to talk like I will be here, because I love it here. I love playing here and playing for Coach Tomlin.
“I know what it is like to be away from here. I played in Tampa for six years. There were some good years, and there were some horrible years there. I know what it’s like to play for a great organization here in Pittsburgh. To leave would be difficult.”
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