Andre Frazier, Steelers Linebacker, 2005, 2007-2010

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First, can you let readers know what you’ve been doing with yourself since your time in the NFL?

I’m the project manager for a small custom home building company here in Cincinnati, Hensley Custom Building Group. I say small because we do eight-to-ten homes a year. On average they are a million to two -and-a-half million dollar homes – that’s the general range.

How hard was it for you adjusting to post-NFL life?

It was difficult – to a degree. I miss the camaraderie and friendship.  And the competition – football is the ultimate competition. In my last year in Pittsburgh I hurt my knee and have had problems with my knee – the cartilage has worn away. My body didn’t hold up…

I spent a year rehabbing and trying to figure out what my plans were next – what to do now. Fortunately for me, I was always interested in real estate. I got my minor in real estate in college and my wife and I bought and redid 48 homes and apartments while I was rehabbing, It was a good buffer – a good platform for me.  We still own them all.

How did you get started afterwards in the business?

I had a friend from college here in Cincinnati that was having a home built here and I asked him if I could speak with his builder. To pick his brain. That’s ultimately what I wanted to do – to be a builder.  Well the builder was more than helpful. I took a job shadowing him – unpaid. I worked in the field for six months for free for him.

He appreciated my work ethic and attention to detail and offered me a job. So I decided to stay under his tutelage and learn from the best before I jumped out on my own. He is a Builder 20 – one of the best. We’ve built homes with bowling lanes, basketball courts…that’s the level a lot higher than what I’ll be on when I  start my own business.

So, that’s what I’ve been doing the past four years.

Were you surprised to go undrafted when you left college? What did your agent tell you?

My agent was David Lee of Players Rep. He let me know that I had a chance but if so it would be in the latter rounds. I was 220 pounds – which was undersized for a 6’4″ defensive end. I’m not going to say it wasn’t disappointing. But it was different for me. Football never was the end-all goal. I was blessed enough to get picked up as an undrafted free agent.  My father always taught me to do my best no matter what and let the chips fall where they may. If I didn’t make it, that would have been God’s will.

I watched every draft pick on draft day with my wife and son. We didn’t have a party and it didn’t happen for me. I got calls during the draft and afterwards my agent said I should go to Pittsburgh. That’s where my best opportunity was if I could outwork some other guys and get a spot. I was fortunate to make the team and then the active roster.

Being a Cincinnati guy, how hard was it for you to go and play for Pittsburgh?

It’s wasn’t really. I wasn’t a big Bengals fan. I was actually a big Raiders fan. I loved the black hole and Los Angeles fans.

You mentioned your father earlier, who was a former Bengals player himself. How much did he help you to develop into an NFL player?

I wouldn’t have made it without my father. We lifted weights together – even when I was in college. It wasn’t just lifting weights – it’s what he instilled in me. My work ethic. To give a good effort – 110%. There’s no way I make it without that work ethic he instilled into me.

Who helped mentor you as a rookie in Pittsburgh – on and off the field?

Joey Porter, Farrior…even on offense with guys like Alan Faneca…there was real leadership in the locker room. It was almost like a requirement to do the simple things. If you didn’t run to the ball, Porter gave you that look. I was blessed to be there. From the top down with Cowher when I was a rookie and even my last years under Tomlin.

I was the team captain at the University of Cincinnati for several years and I felt like I was a hard worker, but I could really see the level of work in Pittsburgh. This is why I went undrafted – there was a whole other level of work.

Haggans – no one worked harder than him. He was a machine. I guess that’s why his career was so long. He didn’t make the splash plays like Porter – he wasn’t as physically gifted I don’t think. But his effort and hard work was amazing.

And yet you made the team…

Well, I was cut before the first game, but then Matt Kranchik got hurt and they called me while I was driving home and told me they wanted to put me up to the active roster. It was amazing. All my dreams had come to fruition. I was ecstatic.

It’s funny because on that same day when I was driving home I got into a car accident – I was rear-ended badly on the highway. My back was hurting…. When the training staff asked if I would be ok, you know what I told them – “Yes!”.  I even got a sack that game against Steve McNair when we were up by like 40…

Fast-forward- I got hurt in the AFC Championship game and couldn’t play in the Super Bowl.

Afterwards you were released and actually signed with the Bengals. ..

Yeah….my family loved me no matter what! It was actually expensive for me to play in Cincinnati – I had to buy tickets for my family and friends. Marvin Lewis was a really good coach…Guenther was the linebackers assistant coach then…

The experience there was different from a player’s standpoint. There was less leadership. There were some older guys – Thornton and Simmons. – but you didn’t feel like there were many vocal leaders. In Pittsburgh you had older guys like Aaron Smith and Keisel – guys that were outspoken and backed it up with their play and in practice. Honestly, in Cincinnati you didn’t have that. There was a lack of leadership in the locker room.

Afterwards you return back to Pittsburgh – did the guys there give you any grief, playing for a rival?

Guys joked with me – Arnold Harrison  my best friend came down on me, But it’s different in the NFL. If you can be a help to a team in the NFL, they welcome you with open arms. Look at Pittsburgh now – they had Jacoby Jones there for a second – and he was a Raven!

My second time in Pittsburgh was a blessing. Tomlin was at the University of Cincinnati with me – Amos Jones was to. So I had that familiarity.

The usual guys were also there – Colbert, Coach Butler and LeBeau. Coach Mitchell. They welcomed me with open arms- me a skinny kid from Ohio, a walk-on in college and undrafted free agent. I was blessed to have a playing career.

Any advice for kids entering the game today?

My advice would be to work your butt off and enjoy the moments. My regret is not enjoying my time there,  You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.  I worked hard sure but I didn’t work hard and enjoy it. Personally, I looked over my should so much just trying to stay on the team instead of also enjoying it.

That’s why I don’t have a lot of funny stories.  I never really went out – I was always reading the playbook and staying in. So enjoy the time you have  – even my friends in college would tell you they never saw me at parties at college. Some said it was me being mature but you have to enjoy life. Work hard and enjoy it – spend time enjoying the fruits of your labor.

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Happy Birthday Greg Lloyd – Some Quotes on Lloyd from Former Steelers

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In honor of the Steeler linebacker’s birthday, and because there are so many great quotes about him from players we’ve interviewed, here are a number of those quotes on Mr. Lloyd for your enjoyment:

Kevin Greene: “It was always competitive having Greg Lloyd on the other side as my hunting buddy. It was always, ‘ I’m gonna beat your slow ass to the quarterback’. ‘ Not today Slappy’.” 

Sammy Walker: “Greg Lloyd helped me in different ways. He told me to tell Joe Green “Thanks Mean Joe!” This was right after the Coke commercial and Joe was mad it was so popular and he got paid so little. So Joe grabbed me and picked me up and pushed me against the wall. Lloyd had to rush in and tell Joe he told me to say it. Greg saved me – he told Joe he told me to do it!

Greg also told me he “had me” when we were in the cafeteria. I had my tray of food and then he just walked away.”

Lance Brown:I had a brand new pair of Nike turf shoes on. Greg Lloyd comes up to me chewing his tobacco and says, “Hey rook! I like those shoes. They new?” I said, “yeah, I have a Nike contract. They just sent them to me.” Then, he spit on them and walked off! I was like, “What just happened….?”

Reggie Barnes: “Greg Lloyd said that they would take care of the limos for us. We walked outside and saw three limos pull up, but there were only seven linebackers. I told him we didn’t need seven – and he said he an Kevin would take one, and we’d take our own as well.  of us. I asked him who was going to pay for all this, and he said you are. So I sent one home! The vets were trying to take advantage of us. When we got to the restaurant, Greg Lloyd ordered five entrees. They were gouging us!”

Kendall Gammon: “Greg Lloyd was pretty out there. To say the least.”

Earl Holmes: “Greg Lloyd helped me – he was the quiet storm. He was a mean guy but a great guy. He and Kirkland both helped me. They both said things to me to help me. Greg – I actually met him at the All-America banquet before the draft. He said he watched me play – I thought, you have to be kidding. He watched me play? He then told me that he thought I had something and that I shouldn’t be surprised if I became a Steeler. I appreciated it but thought he was just being nice. Who knew!”

Oliver Gibson: “Lloyd was the big brother you never wanted – always bullying you.”

Oliver Gibson: “Lloyd was the biggest character. He was the first grown man I met that would intimidate other grown men.

As a rookie, he had me come to his Tae Kwon Do practice with Carnell Lake to work on my pass rush. He was insane. He was kicking his students against the wall. Carnell would ask him if that was ok and he’d tell Carnell they liked it (laughing). I was the demonstration demo somehow. I don’t know how that happened. I only went for six lessons – it was torture. He had me in all kinds of moves, bending my wrists back…

He was a darn fool. He broke Kirkland’s wrist showing him a wrist lock one day…”

Mike Tomczak: “Guys like Kevin Green and Greg Lloyd who were competitive at such a high level, trying to prove their masculinity in the locker room. They both had chips on their shoulders – they’d look at themselves in the mirror like fifty times before kickoff….”

Tim Jorden: “Greg Lloyd was nearly unblockable because of his athleticism and intensity. He was probably the best outside linebacker I ever went up against.”

Richard Shelton: “Lloyd was always serious – you couldn’t get him to laugh. He’d say things – he just didn’t care if it was politically correct or not. He’d just say it.”

Courtney Hawkins: “Everyone had this idea that Greg Lloyd was this mean guy. But Lloyd was not all mean – he was  a heckuva teammate. He played practical jokes all the time.”

Levon Kirkland: “Kevin Green and Greg Lloyd were also helpful – instrumental on showing me how to play the game. They set the standards for all of us and if we didn’t play at that level, they let us know.”

Jim Miller: “Characters like Kevin Greene and Greg Lloyd always made my days interesting playing scout quarterback.  One, they both always wore those tight spandex shorts at practice which everyone made fun of them for, and two, they would test me.  I would release a ball and they would punch me in the gut or something testing to see how tough I was.  I love those guys.”

Nolan Harrison: “Training in tae kwon do with Carnell Lake, Rod Woodson (when he was in town) Ernie Brown and watching Greg Lloyd get his fifth degree was amazing as Chuck Norris came into town to present it to him.”

Gary Jones: “Lloyd would joke around too but knew when to get serious.”

Lee Flowers: “No one really took me under their wing but I learned about aggression and passion for the game from Greg Lloyd.”

Brentson Buckner: “Lloyd would come up to me too and would tell me not to pay attention to some of the early articles about me that said I wasn’t playing well. He told me I was a second round pick and had the talent and to just have confidence in the Steelers picking me in the second round.”

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Justin Kurpeikis, Steelers Linebacker, 2001-2003

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First, can you let readers know what you’ve been doing with yourself since your time in Pittsburgh?

Well I live in State College. My wife and I moved here in 2007. This is where we met – I bought this house when I was a player and we know have four kids – two boys and two girls, 7,5, 3, and 1. So I’m busy!

I own three physical therapy clinics and work with a medical devices sales company as well, focusing on orthopedics.

How hard was the post-NFL adjustment for you?

I fell into it. I was pre-med at Penn State – I wanted to be a surgeon but didn’t pursue it after football. My college teammate asked for help with his medical sales territory. Then me and a partner started our own physical therapy company from the ground up. I was always oriented to the medical world.

I’ve always been a what’s next type of person. When the dream dies, it’s tough. Maybe it’s not how you wanted it to go, but few guys walk away on their own terms.  At that point, having a wife now, I just took a run at it.

As a Penn State alum, what are your thoughts on the program now?

Living in town here, for three years I was the vice-president of the President’s Letterman’s Club, and now I’m the President. We’ve gone through quite a bit but things have calmed down a bit now. They’re building the program  – we lost our defensive coordinator so that has happened now.

My thing is this. It’s just important for us to get good kids a good education and get them to be good football players. I feel like it’s happening now. We haven’t been used to change for a long time.

To your career…you were an undrafted free agent coming out of college. Were you surprised to go undrafted?

I was surprised to go undrafted, I didn’t have any inflated dreams – it wasn’t like I expected to go in the first round. I thought I’d go in the middle-to-late rounds. That’s what my agent and those in the know told me.

Looking back then, I guess I was  tweener, I was maybe not big enough to be a defensive end in the NFL but maybe too slow to play linebacker. I was a good football player but I didn’t have as good measurables.

What made you choose Pittsburgh as the place to sign with as an undrafted free agent? How much did it being your hometown help in that decision?

We tried to analyze it. As draft day was winding down, we started entertaining calls from coaches. Pittsburgh was my hometown yeah, but we wanted to find a fit, especially as a linebacker. We thought of all the teams – we wanted the best opportunity. And I thought the added pressure of playing in my hometown was a good thing.

Who helped mentor you and show you the ropes as a rookie?

Living in my hometown, I lived at home with my parents’ my rookie year. My buddies and teammates thought that was funny.  They’d ask what my mother made for dinner and want some too.

I was lucky to have guys who around the NFL for a long time.  Porter, Gidon, and Haggans were the outside linebackers – they were an established group. But they treated all the guys the same. Cowher, linebacker coach Archer, and the special teams coach Hayes – they didn’t care how you got there – just what you could do there. Colbert too – even though he was a North Catholic guy and I was a Central Catholic guy!

How did you deal with life on the bubble – the pressure and stress?

At that age there’s tremendous pressure on yourself. That’s a good thing – that fear of failure. In high school and college, it’s something you learn. You can only worry about the things you can control. You work as hard as you can and let the chips fall where they may. I was always at the back of the roster my entire career – I was never a superstar at Penn State either. You get used to it. There’s no four or five year scholarship in the NFL though, as rough as it sounds. Everyone has to deal with it.

How did humor play a part in your time in Pittsburgh?

The locker room was like high school or college. I really enjoyed playing there and being around each other.

They use to joke to me about MTV Cribs. They told me MTV wanted to do a special at my house but they had to ask my mother! Mike Jones, Holmes, and Fiala – there were a lot of guys with a lot of good football there. It was hyper-competitive. They were gifted and hungry.

Why do you think you stuck on the team for three years?

Just think they saw I worked hard – that I was a smart player that cared about the game. I think they sensed that. The coaches didn’t care how I got there – just what I did. Cowher and Colbert could see I came with the hard hat every day.

Looking at the NFL now, what are your thoughts on the changes the NFL has been making to the game?

As you can tell, I’m pretty old school. There’s a lot I don’t like. The game has always been about hitting and heart. If you do those things, there should be a place for you in the game.

Any thoughts for fans reading this?

I’m a Western PA kid. A Pittsburgh kid. I was very fortunate to have that experience. People out there should know that the quality of people in the Steelers organization is superb. That’s why they do so well. It’s an organization to be proud of. I wish I could have played longer and more, but it was great. I got to play with great coaches and players.

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Jim O’Brien: Adam Walker pays tribute to his role model

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Adam Walker pays tribute to his role model

Bill Campbell and his upbringing in Homestead

By Jim O’Brien

Adam Walker wanted Bill Campbell to be his mentor in the international business world and spent two years trying to connect with the former CEO and Chairman of Intuit, Inc., a real success story in Silicon Valley and before that in Steel Valley.

Walker and Campbell both came out of Homestead where they starred in sports, and Walker was familiar with the Campbell’s legacy.  He knew that Bill and his brother Jim had both been outstanding student athletes in the truest sense at Homestead High.  He had been told that their father, also Bill, had been a coach and sports administrator before becoming superintendent of the local school district.

Homestead High was later merged with Munhall High to become Steel Valley High School, where Walker was a student.  Bill Campbell had been a captain of the Columbia University football team that won an Ivy League title, and Jim Campbell was a star receiver at Navy, a prime target for Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach, an All-America lacrosse player and later a jet pilot and assistant athletic director at the Academy.

Walker wanted to know what Bill Campbell knew to succeed in a global business.  Walker, who will turn 48 on June 7, was the founder and CEO of Homestead Packaging Solutions, with facilities in Tennessee and Michigan, when he finally succeeded in talking on the telephone with Campbell at his Mountain View residence in northern California.  Notice the name he gave his undertaking.

“I chased after him for two years,” Walker told 78 men at a Good Guys Luncheon at Atria’s Restaurant & Tavern in McMurray on Thursday, April 21.  “He told me he was too busy to be my mentor.  But I persisted, begged might be a better word.  Finally, he relented and said, ‘Oh, hell, us Homestead guys have to stick together.  We will talk for a half hour once a month for 12 months.  How’s that?’ I was so happy to hear that plan.”

Walker was grateful that Campbell had consented to be his mentor.  After all, Campbell was called “the coach” in Silicon Valley because he had coached the football team at Columbia before he had entered the business world, first with Kodak and then with Steve Jobs as an executive at Apple before becoming the boss at Intuit, Inc., creator of TurboTax and QuickBooks.  Bill Campbell had been a consultant for Steve Jobs, the genius who founded Apple, and many other entrepreneurs in the Silicon Valley.

Walker is now the CEO of Summit Packaging Solutions, based in Monument, Colorado.  I think it says a lot about him that he was smart enough to link up with Campbell earlier in his career.  I’ve been a mentor to many young men and women and it’s satisfying especially when you have a willing student.

Walker would be honored two days later with the Campbell Courage Award, underwritten by Bill Campbell to honor his family.

He would be appearing along with two Pro Football Hall of Fame members, Jim Kelly of the Buffalo Bills and Ronnie Lott of the San Francisco 49ers, at the Minor Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremonies at the Heinz History Center and then Rivers Casino.  Former minor league football players and area high school coaches were also honored at the annual event.

Bill Campbell chose Adam Walker to be the first recipient of the award.  Walker was interviewed at the program for the Good Guys Luncheon about his success story by Bill Hillgrove, the radio voice of Pitt football and basketball as well as the Steelers.  Hillgrove knew Walker from their respective days at Pitt.

“Knowing that Mr. Campbell hand-picked me makes this award even more meaningful,” said Walker.  He was accompanied by his cousin Robert Walker, who was also with him and other family members at the program on Saturday.

By coincidence, Hillgrove was going to be receiving a Campbell Courage Award that same Saturday at the Western Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame dinner at the Sheraton at Station Square.  The late Darrell Hess, who coordinated that dinner for many years, had gotten Bill Campbell to underwrite that award as well as an annual dinner to honor student athletes from Steel Valley and West Mifflin.

Bill Campbell said a year ago that he couldn’t come to Pittsburgh for Walker’s honor, but that he planned to be there next year when he wanted Charlie Batch to be the honoree.

Walker and Hillgrove were among those in this area who were shocked by the news that Monday, April 18, that Bill Campbell had died of cancer at age 75.  “He was a real hometown hero,” said Walker.

Campbell was expected to come back to his hometown later this month for ceremonies to mark the re-opening of West Field in Munhall.  Campbell had contributed over $6 million to have the landmark ballfield renovated.

Over the years, Campbell had contributed over $30 million to upgrade academic and sports facilities and to provide computers for students at Steel Valley School District.  His loss will be felt when it comes to future planning in the community.

“He gave us millions of dollars, but the love he had for us is truly priceless,” said Edward Wehrer, superintendent of the Steel Valley School District.

Campbell was so proud of his heritage and his hometown.  He received and read The Valley Mirror faithfully, he once boasted.  He was as proud to be in the company of Darrell Hess, Joe Chiodo and Joe Ducar, all pals back home.

“He has helped our friend Charlie Batch with his Best of the Batch efforts here,” said Walker.  “He has helped so many people here.”

Campbell picked up the tab for about 90 men and women from Homestead and Munhall who attended the Minor Pro Football Hall of Fame activities.

Ronnie Lott presented Walker for his award and he and Kelly and Walker all offered stirring reflections and suggestions to a sold-out audience at the Heinz History Center.  Lott also spoke of Bill Campbell and how he had been a business ally of his through the years.

Monk Bonasorte was to be honored at this event, but was unable to make it because he learned six months ago that he has brain cancer.

Bonasorte had played football at Bishop Boyle in Homestead and later as a defensive back at Florida State University.  He was an All-American there and a member of Bobby Bowden’s all-time Florida State team.

His brother Chuckie, who was called “the Kamikaze Kid” when he starred on special teams for Johnny Majors’ teams at Pitt in the mid-70s, accepted the award for him.  Bonasorte sells Pitt souvenir items, mostly T-shirts and ballcaps, at the corner of Forbes Avenue and Bigelow Boulevard on the Pitt campus.  MBA students at Pitt would be wise to watch him in action if they want to learn something about grass-roots business.

Jim Kelly has twice overcome bouts with cancer and Chuck Bonasorte asked everybody to pray for his brother so that he might also overcome cancer.  Kelly has inspired many people stricken with cancer to fight the good fight with his “Kelly Tough” message and the importance of faith and family.

So it was an emotional event, to say the least, one that Tom Averell, the director of the Minor Pro Football Hall of Fame, could take great pride in putting it all together.  I shared in his pride, having lined up Bill Campbell, Adam Walker, Ronnie Lott and Jim Kelly to be the real stars of the production and I was the emcee for the program.

Walker was not drafted when he came out of Pitt, and got a tryout with the Philadelphia Eagles.  He was one of their final cuts and was kept on the practice squad.

Then he received a tryout with the San Francisco 49ers.  He was cut there, too – 11 times in all – but he stayed around and finally made the team.  He credited Eddie DeBartolo Jr. for believing in him.  He said that DeBartolo, the former owner of the 49ers, continues to be supportive of his efforts.

Ronnie Lott also spoke of the special affection he and many other former 49ers have for Mr. DeBartolo, now looking after the family’s commercial real estate business out of Tampa.  They own and operate shopping malls throughout the country.

DeBartolo arranges for frequent reunions of his NFL championship teams in places like Las Vegas and other resort areas.  “Eddie DeBartolo still cares about us,” said Walker, a sentiment echoed by Lott.  “He’s an owner who genuinely cares about his players.  You couldn’t work for a better man.”

Walker started out with the Eagles in 1990 and then was with the 49ers from 1991 to 1995, and was a member of the 49ers that won a Super Bowl (XXIX) in 1994.  He was a special teams captain with the Eagles and 49ers.  He only carried the ball out of the backfield 32 times for 115 yards and two touchdowns with the 49ers.  He gained league-wide honors for his work on special teams.

During an interview once in the early days of his NFL career, he was asked how he slept at night after being cut 12 times.

“I slept like a baby,” said Walker.  “I woke up every two hours and cried.”

That story always gets a laugh.

Walker is an impressive fellow.  He dresses well and walks tall and tells good stories.  He speaks well and with pride.  He never gives up.  He had had ups and downs in his business and football careers, but he moves on.  He said he learned that from his father.  He ordered two rings when he was honored by the Minor Pro Football Hall of Fame, one for him and one for his father, a former millworker in Homestead.

He said he wants to write a book about Homestead.  He talked to me at length about that.  I think he’s looking for another mentor.  My wife Kathie has come up with the title already.  It would be “A Walker in Homestead.”

—————-

Valley Mirror columnist Jim O’Brien has written 24 books.  His latest is called “Golden Arms: Six Hall of Fame Quarterbacks from Western Pennsylvania.”  It is available at his website www.jimobriensportsauthor.com

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Rameel Connor, Steelers Defensive Lineman, 2008

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First, can you let readers know what you’ve been doing with yourself since your time in the NFL, and how you got started in this?

Since my time in the NFL ended I went back to school at the University of Illinois to earn my Master’s degree in Higher Education Administration. I then went on to start my Insurance agency in late 2005 in Central IL. I enjoyed a successful agency for many years (8) I began to find other interest after I began traveling to Austin TX in 2008 and eventually moved to Austin in 2013. I joined Oracle Corporation recently and I am enjoying learning the Enterprise Software & Hardware sales world.

How did your time in the NFL help you and how hard was the adjustment to post-football life for you?

My time in the NFL helped me become a better self-starter, it helped me cultivate a never say die attitude that continues to translate over in business. It helped me transfer my competitive attitude over to the business world as a business owner and as an employee of a fortune 100 enterprise. What made the adjustment difficult was not being an athlete anymore, not having the guys around anymore, not competing daily with the best athletes in the world etc. The transition is always a bit painful but eventually you have to focus on your new pursuits and dedicate yourself to accomplishing your new pursuits with the same vigor and tenacity you did with football.

You signed on with the Steelers as a free agent in 2001. Why Pittsburgh – and what did they tell you your role would be there?

I was fortunate enough to sign with Pittsburgh after a very successful campaign in NFL Europe. My team enjoyed success and we made it to the World Bowl. The Steelers were the first team to present a serious offer and I was excited to join such a storied franchise. It was a no-brainer.

Who on the team helped you most to adjust to being a Steeler, and how did they do so?

The entire D-Line were very helpful in acclimating to the Steeler way as well as several other teammates like Marvell Smith, Joey Porter, etc. All of my teammates were very fun to be around and consummate professionals.

You were assigned to NFL Europe by the team. How did that experience help you and what about it did you enjoy most?

I was assigned to NFL Europe by my former team the Miami Dolphins. The experience was phenomenal I regards to seeing the world as well as playing time as a starter at the professional level, team and individual success and great lifelong friends.

What was your biggest adjustment to the NFL and Pittsburgh’s 3-4 defense, and how did coaches work with you most to help you?

The adjustment was a bit difficult for me coming from Miami which played a wide 7 attacking (3-4 Defense). Coach Mitchell is very knowledgeable and was a skilled instructor and motivator. My style of play had to adjust a lot and the transition took a bit but after tireless film review and actual play in the (helmet to helmet 5-technique) position I eventually adjusted and began to understand my role and the expectations.

Tell us a bit about how humor played a part in your time in Pittsburgh. Who were some of the biggest characters then and can you tell us a couple of funny instances or stories that happened during your time there?

The locker room after practices was always a light atmosphere and guys like Joey P, Kimo, J.B. , Rodney Bailey, Casey Hampton always were joking. I lived in the same apartment complex as Joey Porter so I was entertained at the facility as well as off site.

Who were some of the toughest guys you lined up against, both in practice and on game days, and what made them so?

Marvel Smith and Wayne Grady were very tough linemen as well as Alan Faneca, all were great athletes very strong and quick. Alan Faneca was just a true beast of a man that made me get smarter and stronger from competing against him daily.

What are your thoughts on the way the NFL has changed over the past few years, and what advice would you give younger people entering the sport today?

I am not sure the NFL has changed much since my days but I am sure of this the athletes continue to get bigger, faster and stronger. I have noticed that safety precautions have increased over the years and I commend the teams and the NFL for tightening up on safety across the board. My advice for young guys entering the NFL is to STUDY UP, understand what a privilege it is to simply be a professional football player, take care of your body (limit bad food/alcohol/partying) there is time for all of that after you are done playing, it’s a very short career and a small window to maximize the opportunity you earned take full advantage.

Any last thoughts for readers?

The Steeler organization is a top tier ball club and my time with the Steelers was invaluable to my life and has helped shape me into the driven person I am now, my career was prematurely ended by a knee injury but being a part of Steeler Nation will always live on inside of me.

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Art Michalik, Steelers Linebacker, 1955-1956

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First, can you let readers know about your start in the NFL. You were drafted by San Francisco in round 17 in 1951 – how did you learn about being drafted and were you happy about being drafted by San Francisco?

I was still in school and Larry Moon Mullins told me I was drafted. The funny thing is, I got another notice at the same time from the service, telling me I had to report to an internment center. So I went to the Marine Corps instead. I told the 49ers and they suggested I go and return to the team when I came back.

I was in the service for twenty-three months – in fact I was still in the service when I returned to 49ers camp. I took my fifty days of leave – I had them in the books – so used them at the end of my stay and made the team.

That’s when I also started pro wrestling with Leo Normellini. I was a wrestler in college and he suggested that he and I start wrestling to make some extra money.

You were in San Francisco for two years before finding yourself in Pittsburgh. How did you end up in Pittsburgh and were you disappointed in being traded to Pittsburgh?

I was traded to Pittsburgh in my second year. I blew out my knee and back then you only signed for a year with a one-year option. There weren’t multiple year contracts then so it made it easier. The team doctor was also a stakeholder in the team so he felt like I wasn’t going to play again there before the contract ended. So they traded me to Pittsburgh. The funny thing is I got a raise when I got to Pittsburgh! Rooney was a great guy.

Walt Keisling was the head coach then in Pittsburgh- what was he like to play for – and how hard was it then playing for a team that was struggling at the time?

Keisling was a good man, but he was old school. We’d practice for 2 1/2 hours in the morning and in the afternoon. They wanted to try me out at center in Pittsburgh. I came into camp early – a week before the veterans all came in. I came in at 228 pounds, At the time all we had was a skeleton crew – quarterback, receivers and centers. By the end of the first week I was down to 212 pounds!

Pittsburgh was  a great city. It was night and day between San Francisco and Pittsburgh. In San Francisco you were just another person. In Pittsburgh you stood out. The people were outstanding. They used to send us to a special car dealership – they’d give us all great deals! After my last year in Pittsburgh I was traveling to Calgary to wrestle when the general manager of the Calgary Stampeders asked me what I was doing in Clagary – and he asked me to come back and play for them. The coach was Jim Finks – former quarterback of the Steelers. Back then, you could only have twelve Americans on a team and only six could start at a time.

Tell us more about your time as wrestler and tag team champion in the National Wrestling Alliance. How did you get into the wrestling profession and how did your time in the NFL help your wrestling career?

Well I was a conference champion in college for four years. I started wrestling in the offseason when Leo Nomellini – a teammate in San Francisco – suggested that I go with him to talk to a promoter in San Francisco. I started working with Leo as my tag team partner and as a single wrestler. I found it very interesting – it allowed me to travel six times to Japan. On one trip, they had the American servicemen play football against the Japanese wrestlers. The American guys weren’t allowed to weight more than 160 pounds – the Japanese were sumo wrestlers! I was asked by the promoter to help coach the Japanese team! As a job, it helped me make more money. Football didn’t pay so well. It helped me see lots of the world and the Japanese loved us. They would all come to the stadiums and sat on mats. We would have 8,000-10,000 people but we didn’t get a cut of that – just our guarantees! When the train we rose on stopped at depots, the fans would all wave and cheer for us.

Do you watch the NFL today? What do you think of the want the game has changed?

Yes, I do. It’d really different now. Now it’s mainly about money. We played hurt. We’d use novacain to kill the pain. When we had a concussion we’d use smelling salts and that was it. After football, I coached for thirty-eight years. I coached in high school and junior college and taught them what Moon Mullins taught me about that old school mentality – that’s winning is mostly about attitude.

You’re famous in part for causing the introduction of the facemask into the NFL. How did that occur?

Oh yeah – that was Otto Graham. We played the Rams in L.A. and flew back to San Francisco afterwards. My two eye teeth were knocked back, so they pulled them both out Monday. On Wednesday we flew to Cleveland and they hemorraghed on the plane. They rushed me to the hospital and I got out that Saturday, just in time for the walk-through, and I played on Sunday. That game, I hit Graham across the face and he had to have eleven stitches – he was sewed up at halftime. He was allergic to novacain so he did it without any help. But the next game, he needed a facemask I guess and that’s how it started.

Any last thoughts for readers?

Football gave me my livelihood. It put me in college and gave me my education. No one can take that away from anybody. I enjoyed the time we had and tried to instill that in the players I coached in high school and junior college.

I see the coaches I used to play with and against sometimes. We get together once a year – we call it the Legends Golf Tournament. Twenty-five to thirty of us get together – former players and coaches – those of us who are left.

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Brandon Williams, Steelers Wide Receiver, 2009

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So, first, can you let us know what you are doing with yourself since the NFL?

I’m a speaker and an author – I wrote a book last May on the Millionaire Mindset and am now doing speaking engagements and am out selling my book. I moved back to Madison, Wisconsin and got my communications degree and am a consultant for the university as well. I teach my financial principles to the athletics department. I also do the Gridiron GQ podcast and another one to start soon interviewing athletes who are running their own companies. It’s very cool – it’s for young kids and older players – teaching them about leadership and marketing – helping them learn entrepreneurial skills. It’s got a great response!

I’m still a certified financial planner – I don’t practice but worked for Morgan Stanley or three-and-a-half years. It was a good time but it was too micro. I wanted to work on a macro scale and speak the financial gospel. With compliance, which is understandable in the industry, it didn’t allow me to move the way I wanted.

And, I am also still doing radio for ESPN in Madison covering college football and interviewing former Wisconsin players.

So, skipping around to your travels to Pittsburgh. How did you find your way to Pittsburgh in free agency?

In 2008, I played for half a year but was out of football the rest of the year. I switched agents and was in transition. I had a few teams interested and like the Steelers – I liked what Tomlin was doing with the team. I thought there was an opportunity – Santonio and Hines were the main two guys and Hines was on his way out. Limus Sweed was there and some other guys – I thought it gave me a real shot. It was a great opportunity. I had also never been to Pittsburgh. It was an awesome city – I never knew that. I didn’t know it rained more in Pittsburgh than in Seattle. Not more often, but more inches.

When you were in Pittsburgh, who helped you to adjust to the team?

It wasn’t one particular person. Ryan Clark – me and him had a fee scuffles in camp but we had trained together a couple of summers and were friends. I knew Santonio too from our Big Ten days.

The defensive players – they were the bread and butter of the team at the time. They were always cool. Polamalu, Farrior, they were great. Harrison, Deshea, Ike T….they were all good people.

In my short time there, it was the  best organization I played for, with their community outreach and the way they take care of their players…

What are some of the funnier memories you have of your time there?

The funniest thing I remember was the competition at the pool table. It was in the middle of the locker room. It wasn’t gambling – no money or anything. It was just about who was best and they played before and after practice. They were always going hard -pool and I think dominos. It wasn’t a gambling culture like other places I’ve been, but it was about who was beat.

Who really was the best?

Santonio was a beast. He was really good. Limus was decent too. But Santonio had his own stick and was very good.

So you’re in Pittsburgh but you didn’t stick around long – what happened?

In Spring I was playing my best ball. I was hungry – it was the best I had played. Tomlin pulled me aside and told me he didn’t know how I had gotten there but he was glad I was there. He said I was playing well. But I was injured in training camp – I strained my oblique. I was practicing blocking punts – which I never would have really done in a game. I never did it before and I reached out to block the punt and heard two pops. I was out for a week. As a free agent – I was just a guy – not a name. It gave other guys the opportunities and they capitalized on them.

And you decided to retire when you didn’t make the team?

I knew that was my last shot. That it was done. I had decided to retire if I didn’t make it and that’s what happened. In 2010 I officially retired and left the game. I went immediately into commentating. In 2013 I hit my stride in commentating. I had financial issues and bounced back – had kids and got married and stayed close to the game. My brother Art Powell plays for the Bills. I try to help and mentor him and give him my blessings as well.

I’m tired of all of the bankruptcy stories. From ten on up – you can’t wait until guys are twenty-two. Who listens to guy when he’s been given a million dollar check? It goes right over their head.

On your commentating career, you got started quickly. How did you do so?

I called up my old university and they put me in contact with the Big Ten radio producer who gave me an audition. I bombed it – I was terrible! But thirty days later I was accepted into the NFL broadcasting boot camp and the same producer was there, I don’t know what happened over those thirty days but he said I was exponentially better and gave me a shot.

What advice would you give younger players today?

I’d stress to them to build their team and build a great brand. A high school kid can build a massive brand  and carry it through the NFL. Improve your value off the field – you have to constantly put in the work – and you’ll see results. You have to build a team around you as well. I watched LeBron James since he was in high school – he was like a savant with his business strategy. He had a great team around him since he was a rookie.

No man is an island – I listen to a lot of speakers. You need a team.

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Terry Hawthorne, Steelers Cornerback, 2013

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First, can you let readers know what you are ding with yourself since your time in Pittsburgh?

Well, I’m back at home helping my high school football team in East St. Louis. I’m coaching the defensive backs for them and helping to teach there.

Any coaches and lessons influence the way you coach them?

I tell them every day they are going to go through adversity There are times when they will be down and need to be picked up. There are ups and downs in games – several coaches at Illinois helped me in this. They gave me feedback like a father – guys like Ron Zook.

In PIttsburgh?

In Pittsburgh it was more up to the players. I wasn’t there enough to gain a bond with the coaches. Players stuck together and lifted each other up.

What players really helped you the most?

Ike Taylor helped a whole lot. He and Shamako Thomas – he and I came into the league together and stuck together a lot.

How did Ike help?

Ike put me through the ropes and showed me how things should be. What to expect…

You were drafted in the 5th round by Pittsburgh in 2013. Were you surprised, and how did you find out you were drafted?

I was surprised. I did visit Pittsburgh before the draft but I ever expected them to draft me. I was sitting with my family when they called me. Coach Lake called and asked if I was excited to be a part od the Steelers family.

Tell me about the visit – what did that entail?

It was fun – it was just me sitting down with the coaches and letting them know about my background. They let me know how it is in Pittsburgh. It was more like a meet and great just to get to know me personally.

It’s interesting that you came into the NFL as a defensive back as you were one of the highest rated wide receiver recruits in high school. How did that transition occur?

I was recruited as an athlete – I was happy to make the move. Coach Zook said that he thought I could play both way but it was faster than I expected. One of our All-American defensive backs hurt is ACL and MCL so he asked if I would play defenive back and help the defense. We were loaded at the time at wide receiver.

In Pittsburgh as a rookie, how much did humor affect you and the team?

They were all fun moments for me. Being around guys that love the game and share that same passion…. We all joked around. We played pool – and ping pong was the big thing. We challeneged each other a lot.

In the defensive backs room, Ike Taylor would always crack a joke when the meetings started to keep everyone happy.

So you’re there as a rookie but don’t make it past that rookie season. What happened?

I had an injury – messed up my knee. It happened in mini-camp – I came down on it wrong and it’s hurt ever since. In OTAs I had it scoped and cleaned out. But in camp it swelled up again really bad and that was pretty much it.

What did the coaches tell you?

They didn’t really approach me about the injury. When I re-tweaked it in camp they didn’t know what was up with it. The trainer – Norwig – told me it woudl be hard for me to play – it was so swollen. Due to the injury I couldn’t perform – I couldn’t practice enough. Coach Tomlin told me that I just missed too many practices and I was cut. I didn’t have anough opportunities to show what I had.

How are you handling that now?

Not very well. I’m struggling – it’s difficult to come back to reality. It’s hard for me to watch a game. To know what I could have done… I wasn’t able to showcase my talent or what I had in store. It’s hard to watch a game – to not be able to do something I have a passion for…

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Harold Bishop, Steelers Tight End, 1998-1999

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First, can you let readers know what you are doing with yourself now?

Well, I moved back to Tuscaloosa – I bought a house there when I was playing in Pittsburgh. I have three children – a nineteen year old son, a son who’s a sophomore, and a daughter that’s twelve. I’ve been married to my wife now for twenty-three years.

I’m a hospital rep for Baxter Health – I sell anesthesia to OR’s in hospitals.

How did you get started in pharma?

When my career ended in Pittsburgh, I soul-searched. I had nine hours left to finish my degree at LSU. I chose pharma – it was a lucrative business. I wanted to mimic what I was making in the NFL and pharma sales was booming at the time. I hooked up with AstroZeneca in 2000 – that’s how I got started.

How hard was that adjustment for you?

It was pretty tough. I didn’t realize how tough it was until afterwards. I had that competitive drive – you get that somewhat in pharmaceutical sales but nothing compares to the comradery with athletes. The sport is something you grow up with learning and you can’t replace that. It’s even tough now – I can’t do the same things I could do when I was in my 20’s. It’s a life adjustment – fortunately I could transition well to the corporate world. That really helped to have that success early.

So stepping back and looking at your NFL career ..

I got most of my playing time in Cleveland. I got hurt though after we moved to Baltimore, I hurt my knee and then tore my hamstring. I got bogged down and was cut by the Ravens. I sat out the ’97 season and got healthy. Then I went to play for the World League’s Rhein Fire and the Steelers picked me up after that.

How surprised and affected were you by the move to Baltimore?

Initially no one knew anything. We heard rumors, but no one thought Modell would ever move the Browns. We started off strong that year. Then it came out we were moving and everything just dropped. You don’t realize the intermakings of that’s going on inside the organization. But you could tell the older players – the guys there ten to eleven years – their focus went away. We tanked afterwards – it was tough for everyone.

When I think back, it was tough on the city. We played Cincinnati at home our last game and you could see the fans were distraught. As a youngster you don’t realize the impact the team leaving the city has. It was really tough on the people of Cleveland. You see it when you watch that game on NFL Films – fans tearing the stadium up to take a piece of the team with them. You could see how distraught they were.

How did Baltimore receive you when you moved there?

Cleveland was fire and Baltimore was ice. The people of Baltimore were ecstatic. They experienced a similar thing and understood Cleveland’s pain but were just so happy to have a football team back and welcomed us with open arms.

After Baltimore let you go you found yourself in Pittsburgh. How did that happen?

I think Pittsburgh would have drafted me if Tampa Bay didn’t. Tom Donohoe and I had a good relationship. Tom called me and asked if I was interested in flying up and working out for the team. My head coach and offensive coordinator at the Rhein Fire both had ties t the Rooneys, and during the season they contacted Galen – the head coach – about me.  I had a good workout and they signed me that day.

Who were the guys you bonded with when you got to Pittsburgh?

I can tell you Earl Holmes and I did. We were in the same fraternity and he pulled me to the side and told me I was going to make the team. He said the team needed a vertical threat at tight end. We had Mark Bruener who was a bulldozer and under-rated receiver, but he was 235 pounds. He was the blocker for Jerome. They wanted a guy who was a third-down tight end. I had one start versus Seattle – that was my best game. I got the game ball. But Mark was the guy.

Who were the guys that joked around a lot – and how did humor help you there?

I used to rib a lot with Earl – he and I were both ribbers. During camp we’d go out to different venues. Pittsburgh was a great city – we used to go out to a place on the water called Donzis when we had free time. We were all tight in the locker room. The NFL – everyone is their own person. But in Pittsburgh we call stuck together. All the positions hung out together. Each person took are of the next man.

Kirkland was also a big influence by the way. He started a football camp in South Carolina and flew eight-to-nine of us down. We all went and ate with his family and their house – it was one of my most memorable times. When we played in Detroit Jerome brought us all to is house and we ate with his family. I remember that well.

What happened though that caused your career to end shortly after you arrived in Pittsburgh?

I got another injury. I got a viral infection – sarcoidosis – which is the same thing Reggie White had. But mine was more controllable. I was put on a high dose of steroids for the inflammation and lost a lot of intramuscular strength. I was healing but tore my meniscus in my left knee. They just took it out but it was just bone on bone. I couldn’t run after that. I stayed with the team for part of the season but then we came to an injury settlement.

What did the team say to you?

They were disappointed. Cowher had plans for me – he liked my ability to get down the seam. When I got hurt they drafted Jerame Tuman …

Looking back on your career, what advice would you give guys entering the game today?

My advice to the younger guys is to respect the game and themselves. Hold yourself to a high standard – Pittsburgh expects that. Fans will love you or hate you if BS them. So look at the people who were there before you – the Hines Wards, Franco Harris’, Mel Blounts, Rocky Bleiers. When you want into those guys they’d pull you aside and were great guys – they talked to you. So respect the craft, your body, and enjoy the game. If you do that, you’ll have a great career and great life afterwards.

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Four Under the radar players that could influence Steelers offseason/draft

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OLB Anthony Chickillo – The way the team views his development and potential at LB/DE could impact the team’s need to add OLB depth this draft

ILB’s Jordan Zumwalt and LJ Fort – Can either take the place of Garvin if he leaves in FA as a backup ILB and ST’s ace? If not they’ll need to draft someone.

DL LT Walton – The Steelers are woefully thin at DL. Can Walton become one of the at least two players needed to provide key depth here? he came in raw but with promise. If he can become part of the DL rotation that saves the team a draft pick.

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