First, can you let readers know what you’ve been up to since your time in the NFL?
I’ve been just been being a dad – staying down here (in Florida) coaching my kids little league teams. That’s pretty much it – raising my kids. I have two boys – one in high school and one in seventh grade.
Any coaching lessons from your NFL days you apply now as a coach?
I really respect coaches now. Coach Cowher was a great coach. When you first get in the NFL you think you know everything. As a coach you deal with all those different personalities all across the team – even to the practice squad. The things he went through dealing with all of that was a lot.
You had an incredible college career and senior season with 140 receptions and 1,996 receiving yards in hour senior season alone. What made you such an exceptional receiver in college?
It was just hard work. Dedication. I dedicated all of my effort to football. Eat and slept football. And it didn’t hurt that I played with one of the greatest college quarterbacks ever in Tim Rattay.
You were drafted in the first round by the Steelers in 1999. Were you surprised they drafted you and what were your thoughts on being drafted by a team with the likes of Hines Ward and Courtney Hawkins on the roster?
I was never nervous about football. I was doing it for so long. I had the numbers so I wasn’t surprised I was a first round pick.
I didn’t know about Hines Ward or Courtney Hawkins then. My focus was on college teams and football. I had to go look at a map to see where Pittsburgh even was – I was a Southern guy. All I knew was that Terry Bradshaw was from close to where I grew up.
Who helped mentor you as a rookie and helped you adapt to both the NFL and the Steelers culture? How did they do so?
Not really – the receivers were great but they .were all young except Hawkins. He was a real professional but not a rah rah guy. Not a guy to take you under his wing – he was all business. Hines, me, (Will) Blackwell – we were all young. Al just kids running around.
I really didn’t know how to be a professional until I was traded to St. Louis. Isaac Bruce was amazing – he and Ricky Proehl, Marshall Faulk…
What did you feel you needed that you weren’t getting in Pittsburgh?
I’m the type of guy that doesn’t regret things. I don’t drink or smoke. I’m right-minded and don’t get distracted – and my experiences made me a better man.
I just think fans need to know that it wasn’t that Cowher was a bad evaluator. I was dedicated to the game in college. The NFL was just so different. I blame myself for my career. I was just a simple guy – liked the simple stuff like fishing. The Steelers are a great organization – it was just all so big. I didn’t want the attention – the autographs and pictures. I just wanted to play and I just went into a Ricky Williams kind of shell.
Did you feel the Steelers utilized you to your strengths – that they took advantage of what you did well when you were in college?
It was a totally different system from college. The Steelers were a tough, hard-nosed organization. I was just freestyling in college. I didn’t know how to play the wide receiver in the NFL until I got to St. Louis. It’s so hard to play wide receiver in the NFL. I think it’s the second-hardest position besides quarterback. There’s so much stuff you need to know and I had no clue.
What made that learning process so hard? What could have been done differently?
They tried to teach me. I was just too rebellious. Hines wanted to help me but I just wanted to freestyle. I just felt like I knew it all. The team gave me great information. I just didn’t want to listen. I had the greatest receiver in Hines. I just wouldn’t listen. I was too stubborn.
You were there as the Steelers transitioned to Kordell Stewart at quarterback. How did that transition affect you as a receiver and why?
Tomczak was there too. I played well with Tomczak – he was a pocket passer and I was used to that. But with the move to Kordell…With Kordell there was more movement – more stuff on the run. That was harder for me to adjust too. That’s not an excuse though – I could’ve done much better.
Humor plays a big part in keeping teams loose. Who were some of the guys on the Steelers teams you played for that helped keep things light, and how did they do so? Any examples?
Bettis and Joey Porter were always funny. (Amos) Zeroue too – and Earl Holmes, They were all characters but they were professionals too. They were veterans – they were in the game long enough though to know when to play around and when to be serious.
I remember Zereoue and some other vets took our car keys and parked our cars around the corner to make it look like our cars were stolen. They took our wallets and pants and made us walk home in our shorts…. It was all done out of love – we were a brotherhood. It was just a welcome to the family.
You ended up playing for six teams over your eight year career. Do you think fans appreciate the toll that kind of consistent change affects players and how did it specifically affect you?
I don’t think fans have a clue – 90% don’t get it. I never worried about it though. I had kids – my oldest when I was a senior in college and my next soon after. I had so much important stuff going on – I didn’t care if I got cut. It wasn’t life or death in comparison to dealing with kids and other personal stuff. It was important if I got cut, but I know I could move on. I knew it was the cold side of the business. I always thought it was unfair some guys would sign as free agents, get cut and end up with zero to show for it.
What are your favorite memories as a Steeler?
The fans had so much knowledge. I remember at a grocery store – Giant Eagle – a woman – she must have been 82 years old. She came up to me and said certain things I should have done on a play in some game. Real specific. I was shaking my head at how much this 80-year old knew. The fans were just loyal and smart.
Any last thoughts for readers?
I just wish fans would stay patient with players. They go through a lot sometimes – they are human beings and go through personal stuff too. But in the end they usually come out ok and turn out to be good guys….