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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As Elijah Smith ran around the tent getting ready for the Leukemia Lymphoma Light the Night Walk to start, surrounded by family and friends, all you saw was a smiling, happy, healthy eight-year old boy.
You didn’t see someone struggling to keep up, you didn’t see the signs of pain and suffering that the last few years were filled with.
Those are now things of the past, things that won’t be forgotten, but thankfully things that they are no longer reminder of daily. Because on this night you didn’t see Elijah Smith leukemia patient, you saw Elijah Smith the fighter, the child with heart, with courage and with strength.
On this night you saw Elijah Smith…leukemia survivor.
As he proudly held on to a white balloon that signified survivor, with a small light inside that was a shining beacon of the fight he battled and conquered, there was no one prouder of him than his parents, former Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith and his wife Jaimie. They stood by his side as the walk began outside of Heinz Field; a walk attended by Steelers players and their families all wearing Team Elijah t-shirts celebrating the completion of his treatment and supporting all of those taking part in the walk.
“This is the first year we have done it with him being done with treatment,” said Aaron Smith. “It’s a little extra special. Any time we did something and he was having treatment you worried. Now we can just enjoy it being with friends and family.
“It’s just unbelievable. It’s wonderful. And to have all of the support of the Steelers, I still have a lot of good friendships, but even guys I just met are coming out and supporting it. That’s the way the Steelers are. It’s a big family and we all support and help each other.”
One player proud to be supporting the Smith family was nose tackle Casey Hampton. Hampton and Smith have a close bond, and he saw how tough it was when Elijah was diagnosed with leukemia.
“I remember when it first went down and all of the things Aaron went through,” said Hampton. “It’s great Elijah is doing a lot better and has progressed to this point. It’s special because it’s something we have been doing for a while with Aaron. It’s good to do something special with people you are friends with, you love, you have known for a long time.”
The walk is one of the main fundraisers for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, with proceeds benefitting patient and research programs. And thanks to Smith and his former Steelers teammates, it’s also a chance to bring attention and awareness to the fight.
“It shows cancer can strike anywhere at any time, even if you are an NFL player” said Tina Massari, executive director of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Western Pennsylvania. “That is important for other patients and families to feel it’s not just them. The fact that the team comes out and supports it is good for the families and us and helps us continue on with our mission.
“It’s amazing. I know Aaron said last year no matter what happens he would be back next year. This is a night that is special to them, not just for the players or the team, but because of Elijah.”
Hines Ward, who has an eight-year old son of his own, has always participated in the walk and this year was no different. Ward was in town and there wasn’t going to be there to support his former teammate.
“Any time a teammate goes through that we are all affected by that,” said Ward. “It hits home to me. Elijah is all the way back. To see him having fun and running around and being a kid, it’s what it’s all about. It’s good to see a smile on his face.”
As the walk got underway, Elijah looked around and smiled. Maybe he was smiling because he saw all the support he was getting. Maybe it was because he knew over the next few days he would be going to school, and playing soccer, just like all his other friends. Whatever the reason, he was smiling, and that is what mattered most.
“It’s hard for most to understand, but unless you have been down that road the joy you see of your child doing the simple things that most of us take for granted makes you almost want to cry,” said Smith. “But he is doing so wonderful. He has done fantastic. Watching him play soccer makes me want to cry…it did make me cry the first time I saw him play.”
But on this night, Aaron Smith was smiling too.
Tags: Aaron Smith
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Former Steelers defensive lineman Aaron Smith was at the team’s practice facility on Thursday, the first time he has stopped by since officially retiring in early August.
“I really have enjoyed having my time and taking advantage of things I haven’t had the chance to do before,” said Smith. “I don’t have much free time. I have five kids. I drop them off at school, pick them up, I workout, we do homework and have dinner together.
“I enjoy it. I don’t know if my wife always enjoys it, but I do.”
Smith spent time catching up with his teammates and coaches, who were all thrilled to see him.
“It’s the first practice I watched,” said Smith. “It’s nice to see the guys. It’s a little weird coming in to the building knowing I am not playing and watching them go out to practice.
“This place is so special to me and has done so many good things for me and given me so much that I always feel comfortable coming here.”
What was uncomfortable for Smith recently though, was watching the Steelers first game of the regular season against Denver. Not being a part of it, not playing, really hit home when he turned the game on.
“That was the hardest day,” admitted Smith. “Up to that point I didn’t miss the practice, going to camp, the long meetings at night. But game day was always so much fun. There is nothing like that in this world. That is the one thing I realized. There is nothing that can simulate that. Once you are done playing, you’re done.”
The other thing that was strange for Smith was seeing someone else wear his former number, as linebacker Brandon Johnson now sports #91.
“It was weird to see someone in it,” said Smith. “You always live in the game even when they move on to the next guy. You never pictured yourself to be the one to move on, though. But it’s just a number and hopefully he has the same success with it as I did.”
Smith said as he watched the game he couldn’t help but look at it like a coach would, watching techniques and schemes. And on Thursday when talking to some of the players he offered the same type of encouragement he did when he was their teammate.
“I always tried to be positive and uplifting to the younger guys and encourage them and show them how small of an opportunity it is and how to make the most of it,” said Smith.
Tags: Aaron Smith
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The lights will be shining on four former Steelers one last time on Friday night as they officially retire from the NFL as Steelers at the team’s night practice at Latrobe Memorial Stadium.
Willie Parker, Joey Porter, Aaron Smith and Marvel Smith, all members of at least one Super Bowl winning team, will be honored prior to the practice.
“All four are great Steelers,” said defensive end Brett Keisel, who played with each of them. “They were great players here. Aaron has taught me so much, how to play, approach it, play with technique. Marvel Smith, we competed like crazy when I was a younger player, he used to dominate me.
“All four of them are Pro Bowlers. Joey was our fearless leader. He had a method to his madness for sure. And Willie, he was a great player that came from free agency and worked his way into a starting role.”
Linebacker Larry Foote looks at the four players as guys who brought leadership to the locker room and left their footprint on the team for years to come, especially Porter who helped him when he was a young linebacker.
“I remember being a rookie looking up to them, them showing me the ropes,” said Foote. “It’s going to be a special night, they were all special.
“Joey was one of those special teammates, he brought everyone together. He was the ultimate captain, ultimate leader. His influence is still on this team. A lot of guys learned so much from him. He is the reason why we have had so much success this past decade.”
Current Steelers defensive linemen will always hold a special place in their heart for Aaron Smith, who was more than a teammate to them.
“He is a highly positive role model,” said Ziggy Hood. “Everything I learned and gained, I gained from guys like him. It’s one last big bang before you go out.
“He will still be that guy in my eyes for every lesson he taught me and everything I learned from him. It will be a special night.”
Keisel is happy all four will get a proper send off and thank you by the thousands of fans expected at the night practice, but saying thank you to Smith might be something he can never do enough of.
“Words can’t explain how much Aaron has taught me, not just on the football field but about being a man,” said Keisel. “I look up to him so much I don’t know if I will ever be able to repay him for what he has taught me.
“It will be emotional, but I have had time to wipe the tears away and enjoy and celebrate the career he had. I will never be able to repay him for what he has done for me and the organization.”
Tags: Aaron Smith, Brett Keisel, Joey Porter, Larry Foote, Marvel Smith, Willie Parker, Ziggy Hood
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Safety Ryan Clark has seen teammates come and go, with others stepping in to pick up the slack on the field. Clark knows the same will be the case on the field this year after the team lost James Farrior, Aaron Smith and Will Gay this offseason.
“As far as football, it’s going to roll on,” said Clark. “This organization won six Super Bowls for a reason. They know how to get the right people in the right position and allow them to play football. As far as the leadership I think everyone is doing what they have been doing all along and the leadership process happens naturally.”
But it’s off the field where he will miss guys who were more than teammates, they were friends.
“It’s the off the field stuff and the behind the scenes things that you miss the most,” said Clark. “James Farrior was the guy with the remote every morning when we had a break. He is the guy that gave the speech after we had a prayer. Aaron always said the same thing when we broke the huddle. You miss those things. Will Gay danced in the circle before we started the game. It’s the little things like that that hit you every now and then.”
Tags: Aaron Smith, James Farrior, Ryan Clark, William Gay
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Vote on who you think the best fourth-round draft pick has been for the Steelers since 1970, and then go to the polls below and share your opinion too.
Tags: Aaron Smith, Dwight White, Earl Holmes, Ike Taylor, John Stallworth, NFL Draft, Steelers Draft
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When Ziggy Hood walked into the Steelers locker room on Monday, it hit him right away that the player who served as a mentor and friend to him for his first few seasons was no longer around.
“I have Aaron Smith’s locker right next to mine,” said Hood. “It’s weird seeing that void there. But he is going to be lurking through the hallways soon. He is going to come and visit. When he comes in he will be welcomed with open arms.”
Hood, as well as the other young defensive linemen, counted on Smith for advice and guidance, but know it’s now time for them to step up into a similar role.
“It’s going to be strange when we do have practice and go out there and he isn’t going to be there helping to make you better,” said Hood. “We have to get better as a team, especially as a defensive line. Young guys have to step up and take control of it.”
Tags: Aaron Smith, Ziggy Hood
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It came as no surprise to see the Thank You ad that Aaron Smith took out in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, featuring a letter he wrote thanking the Steelers organization, staff, players, coaches and the fans and saying “goodbye”. Smith is a class act, and the gesture is one that falls right in line with the way he has handled his entire 13-year career with the Steelers.
The following is the content from the letter from Smith:
Dear Steelers Fans,
As of today, I am no longer a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I leave the field and Steelers with no regrets, and am grateful to have played for such a tremendous organization. I feel truly blessed to have spent my entire professional career in the best town, playing for the most loyal fans who have loved and supported myself and my family.
The last 13 years of our lives have been special because of the people who cheered me on, and I am truly fortunate to have been a part of the Steelers, the City of Pittsburgh and the Steelers Nation. You have opened your arms and your hearts to us as a family and we will never forget that. Your support, enthusiasm, love and dedication are gifts I will carry with me my entire life.
I may no longer be on the Steelers active roster, but I will always be a Steeler and will never forget the people who made it all worthwhile — the fans, the Rooneys, the front office, the equipment guys and trainers, my teammates and family. Thank you for supporting me over the last 13 years, and I hope you will support me in whatever future path life will take me on.
We plan on making Pittsburgh our home and I will endeavor for the rest of my days to find a way to thank each and every one of you personally for all that you have done and meant for me and my family. You cheered for me for 13 years and now I cheer for you for the rest of my life. You will always be in my heart, thoughts and prayers. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for allowing me to have the job of a lifetime. You will always be in my heart.
Your friend always,
Aaron Smith and Family, No. 91
Tags: Aaron Smith
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Defensive end Aaron Smith was at the Steelers practice facility on Wednesday, checking in after having surgery on his neck last week.
“Right now I feel good,” said Smith. “It went well. Recovery, just one week out you are still trying to recover and get rid of that operation and the funk you go through.”
Smith, who was placed on injured reserve on Oct. 22, had been bothered by the neck as far back as Super Bowl XLIII, but thought it was just the result of playing football and hitting. This year he injured his foot and while sidelined noticed the neck was still bothering him, making him realize there was a problem.
After an MRI it came to light he would have the cervical fusion surgery, which required going through the front part of the neck and using steel plates to fuse the discs together.
“I tell everybody I have had my bicep, rotator cuff, triceps done, you can work on my knees, my feet, but when you talk about your spine and neck you are talking about precious real estate,” said Smith. “It changes everything with how you think about the surgery and the rehab.”
Smith has had his ups and downs since surgery, but the worst part so far is one that will have a direct impact on him this Thanksgiving.
“The toughest part has been eating,” said Smith. “It has not been enjoyable at all. It’s getting better, but I don’t even enjoy sitting down and eating right now.
“I am going to have to chop up turkey real small. With the surgery, Thanksgiving just snuck up on me.”
While many people would look at nothing but the negative, Smith is thankful for all of the blessings he has in his life and isn’t getting down.
“I have so much to be thankful for, my family, my wife and kids, the blessings I have,” said Smith. “The opportunities I have in this life, playing for this organization, the team, and the friends I have had. I might be the most blessed person I know.
“I have gotten to play this game that I love for 13 years. This is what happens when you play this game. This game has given me the opportunity to do something I have loved since I was a little kid. It’s provided for my family and my future. It’s given me great friendships and relationships with people I will have for a lifetime. Injuries are part of it. Bad things happen to people all over the world. It doesn’t mean you need to feel bad or have a pity party. You just have to move on to the next event.”
Tags: Aaron Smith
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