First, can you let us know what you’ve been doing since your time in the NFL and what prompted the new career?
Well, in 2011, I showed up to training camp in Pittsburgh and ran the conditioning test. The next day I felt stiffness in my right leg, and the following day my right leg was completely numb. It turned out I had a ruptured disc in my back, so I had to have back surgery the next week. After the Sepulveda injury the job was mine, I was excited coming into camp. Then, this happened.
After the surgery the doctor told me I’d be up to full speed in 21 days but the rehab didn’t work out. I still couldn’t compete and they took another look and found out I had more issues with my spinal cord and I had to have another surgery. That knocked me out for the year. I was put on IR for the year. In 2012 my left hip had problems – my hip was shredded so I had to have another surgery. That erased any doubt I might have had about playing. As a left-footed punter, surgery on my left hip ended my career for sure.
So what was the next step for you?
Well when I was on IR I was already preparing for life after football. While I was on IR I went to the Penn State career board and applied to 10 jobs a day for the next three weeks. I started interviewing after that, and my high school friends also gave me good intel on good places to work.
I got a job with a company called Vorsight- the HR director was a big Steelers fan and that got me in the door! It’s a business development company – companies hired our team to grow their business by setting up sales opportunities. My role was as a business development associate. I was a telephone terrorist – I’d make 100-150 calls a day. It was a great learning experience; it helped me to get my feet wet.
They also did sales training for companies and that’s how I met my wife. After 10 months there I left. It was an eye-opening experience. I remember for my first pay period I went to HR to get my check. HR pulled me into their office and gave my my check for $850. It wasn’t football any more. I was an entry level employee now.
How hard was the adjustment for you?
It wasn’t that hard. I had two back surgeries and hip surgery and was doing physical therapy, so I was ready. I’d come in at eight and see guys with wet hair, eating breakfast. I wasn’t used to that. I was used to having to be ready to roll the moment we got to work.
Sitting in a cubicle, that was a big adjustment. After a week of not having produced for a week, I asked a friend if I was in danger of being fired. I was used to that mentality from the NFL – being worried about being fired every day if you didn’t produce.
Checking your ego maybe the hardest part. When you’re an NFL player everyone notices you but it’s not worth so much when you’re working in the real world. Maybe it’s good for a free drink!
So, after playing for two teams, how did you find yourself in Pittsburgh?
It was just a matter of circumstances. I started my career with the Jets. I was on their practice squad first then played a few games for them. But the next season I didn’t get the job done and was released. Green Bay picked me up and I was there for two seasons and had a successful first year. But I didn’t get tendered as an exclusive rights free agent, which was a big shock to my system. I was floating around when Sepulveda got injured in Pittsburgh with a knee injury. Pittsburgh held a tryout at Heinz Field and me and a guy that was once drafted by Tampa Bay kicked eight balls each for Mike Tomlin. It was freezing – 10-to-20 degrees out. Tomlin didn’t want to stay out there any longer and chose me. He had seen me kick when I was with Green Bay – when Pittsburgh beat Green Bay when Ben hit Wallace for a ridiculous touchdown.
That season, we went to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, we lost to Green Bay. The next season Sepulveda came back from injury. He was a high pick and a great punter, he beat me out because of that. But he got injured again and they had me come back again.
What are the advantages of being a left-footed punter?
There are a number of left-footed punters in the NFL now. Coaches I guess like the spin. At Heinz Field, as a left-footed punter, when you punt out of the open end of the field and punt right to left, it tails to the left. That was ideal for directional punting for me. You also needed to be low to launch punting out of the open end. Punting into the open end was also affected by the wind. That wind was notorious in Heinz Field.
You broke Super Bowl records for your punting average – how did you manage that?
The Super Bowl was a fun experience. You forgot there’s a game on Sunday because of all of the hype until Friday came along. There were so many extracurricular activities. You just lose track.
Playing against a team I played with for two years, I was familiar with those guys. It wasn’t a grudge but I wanted to prove to them that I had improved. Playing in the dome was fantastic. The ball flies better, It’s not fair when they compare guys that played at outdoor stadiums like Heinz Field with those that kick in a dome. I remember being nervous on my first punt in the Super Bowl but settling down after that.
An fun stories or memories that stand out most to you of your time in Pittsburgh?
When you hear Renegade playing and see the snow coming down, punting in the snow – that’s an iconic memory. And the weekend nights before Christmas when Dick LeBeau would read the Night Before Christmas – I’ll never forget that.
And to see all of those great Steelers come back every week. I met Franco at Penn State, but seeing him come back to Pittsburgh and seeing what he meant there was great. And seeing Wiz Khalifa perform. That was right after his Black and Yellow song. To see him perform at the AFC Championship game was cool. He was raised in Pittsburgh and to witness him at the game was surreal.
Tell me lastly about your memories of the team and coaching staff?
Just being a part of the Steelers legacy – seeing the Lombardi Trophies -and meeting the Rooneys after every game was special. And that he knew who I was, that was rare. In Green Bay and other places, it was rare to have that kind of personal touch by owners.
Tomlin was a great coach – he was fantastic. Mangini and McCarthy in New York and Green Bay all had different personalities. Tomlin was a good coach and leader. If the punter and kicker get acknowledged by the coach and quarterback, that means it’s usually a good team.
I know Green Bay was a good organization, but in my opinion the Steelers were above and beyond them.
Read more by former Steelers via the book Steelers Takeaways: Player Memories Through the Decades. To order, just click on the book: