First, can you let readers know what you’ve been doing with yourself since the NFL and about The Mansion at Maple Heights bed and breakfast in Pittsburgh?
I’ve been running my B&B in my hometown, Pittsburgh, Pa.! We’ve won awards for wedding planning and general hospitality from publications like The Knot, TripAdvisor, and bedandbreakfast.com, and we’ve been featured in the New York Times and Forbes Magazine as one of the most unique B&B’s in the world.
In addition, I have been acting a lot. I’ve been featured in seven commercials for the Pennsylvania Lottery, Nickelodeon TV shows, as well as the pilot for the FX series “Justified”. I was in a few feature films including “Out of The Furnace” with Christian Bale and Casey Affleck and “American Pastoral” featuring Ewan McGregor and Dakota Fanning.
I started a T Shirt Line, “BucTown, Pa.”, designs inspired by Pittsburgh sports teams and Music culture.
I also write music for female vocalists and I started a music publishing company called “No More Genres”
Just staying busy following my passions.
What made you decide to stay in Pittsburgh and get into the B&B business – and how has it been so far?
I’m from Pittsburgh. I was born in Shadyside Hospital, play little league baseball at Mellon Park, Attended Sacred Heart Elementary School. Most players go home when their playing days are over, so that’s what I did!
The B&B give me an opportunity to be an ambassador, creating a new Pittsburgh experience that’s unique to this city: Stay in a Steeler’s house when visiting the Steel City
You’ve also been involved in the music business = tell us how so and how that’s been going too?
Musically I’m going through an evolution. I’ve been blessed to have such great mentors in the industry like Pittsburgh Slim, Jonathan Daniels (crushmusic.com, manager for Keisza, Gym Class Heroes, Train), DJ Adam 12 (President Obama’s resident DJ). I am now working with my cousin from London, Bayoz Muzik.
Getting to football…You were actually a good baseball player and track and field athlete growing up as well. What made you decide to take up football in college?
I decided when I was seven that I wanted to be a pro athlete. I always wanted to be baseball player…still do actually!
But football just came easy to me. I was a running back the first day I went out my Freshman year. Being a first Generation American of Nigerian descent, I just wanted to be like Christian Okoye, the Nigerian Nightmare. Didn’t even know the rules. But after one practice, literally one practice….the course changed. First carry I had, I went 60 yards for a touchdown after running over three upper classmen. I thought to myself “This is football? It looks so much harder on TV!” At age 13, I switched my focus and the rest is history.
You were moved to center in your senior season at Purdue – centering for Drew Brees there. How did your time under center for Drew Brees and the move to the position help or hurt your transition to the NFL?
I was an All-Big Ten player at guard, so moving to center wasn’t something I was the least bit excited about. The NFL draft is like buying livestock. They are grading you on your size, strength, and potential productivity, just like a prized steer or pig. Because I’m only 6’1″, moving to the middle was a testament to my intellect as a football player and my versatility along the O-Line. Lord knows my short ass wasn’t playing tackle at the pro level, so the ability to play all three interior positions, I believe, made picking me a lot more attractive.
You were drafted by the Steelers in the 5th round in 2001. Were you surprised to be drafted by the Steelers? How did you find out the drafted you – who called to let you know and what did they tell you?
I got the call from Mike Miller, an assistant offense coach at the time. He was making small talk trying to tie up my phone line so nobody else would draft me in that round. It felt like destiny to me more than anything else. I felt like I had been a part of his team whole life anyway, just like every other Steelers fan out there!
Who helped mentor you most an NFL rookie both on and off the field and how did they do so? Any examples?
Being in the same room as Wayne Gandy, Alan Faneca, and having Russ Grimm as your coach…It was really more of a “watch and learn” kinda situation. Roger Duffy was in his 12th year my rookie year, I gained a lot of wisdom from working with him, too.
With so much experience and talent all around me, there was an unspoken standard, a level of expectation that was to be met at all costs when you play for Pittsburgh, especially when you are playing center for Pittsburgh!
After six seasons in Pittsburgh you were the heir apparent to Jeff Hartings, then the Steelers brought in center Sean Mahan. Afterwards, you were released and moved on to Arizona. How hard was that for you and do you think you were given a fair shot to win the starting spot – and what brought on the move, do you think?
You, know…I really don’t like thinking about that situation…but I’ll say this…. clearly, Coach Tomlin and Kevin Colbert know what they are doing, that’s why the Steelers are competitive and give the team a chance to be champs year after year…but if you look at the facts, that was a mistake; just proves that they are human and have lapses in judgment. Sean is a really good guy, no disrespect to him as a man or player. But he wasn’t better than me. He lasted one season with the Steelers, I was there for six. In every game that I started for Pittsburgh or played the majority of (like if Jeff was injured during a game), the offense gained over or close to 200 yards rushing. I’ll let you come to your own conclusion on that one!
During your time in Pittsburgh, what were some of the more humorous moments you remember – both on and off the field?
If Jerome Bettis wasn’t a Hall of Fame footballer, he would have been a world famous comedian. He is one of the top five funniest people I ever met in my life.
Looking at the NFL today – how has the game changed for offensive lineman – and do you like the changes to the game in general? Why/why not?
Honestly, I don’t watch enough football these days to give any real feedback. I spent so much time dedicating my entire existence to the game, once I finished I felt an eager desire to explore other passions like music and business. I would have to say that I follow the Pirates and Premier League Soccer more than anything else these days
Any last thoughts for readers?
Remember that sports is just entertainment, a TV program and event for us to enjoy. When opposing fans come to your city, make sure you welcome them as a citizen of this town. No fights, no need to be negative, just enjoy the game.
And be sure to make sure that you prioritize and value your families and important relationships more than anything else. Use football and sports as an opportunity to bond with loved ones. Whether your teams wins or loses, make sure that the time you spent together watching it is what is remembered in the long term, not some silly score.