First, can you let me know what you’ve been doing with yourself now since you retired from the NFL and how you got started?
I’m selling residential real estate in North Hills now. It’s been awesome – I like it more than I anticipated I would.
When I was done with football, I started thinking of what to do next. My mom was in real estate in Minnesota and my dad was in construction. I started weighing the pros and cons of the different ideas I was thinking about and it always came back to real estate. It’s work but offers flexibility. I have a young family – two young daughters, so I liked that aspect. You can set your own pace and schedule and control how busy you are.
Was the post-NFL adjustment tough for you?
You’re always thinking about it when you play but I tell people all the time that you can think about what you want to do all you want, but it’s different when you’re still playing and you don’t have to do something.
I wasn’t naive. I knew it wouldn’t last forever and that I needed to do something. I was fairly proactive and took some classes through the NFL’s business programs, exploring different things. I didn’t make the decision to do real estate until about a year after I retired. I wanted to spend that time with my family and relax and do the things we couldn’t before.
So, stepping back a bit – let’s talk about being drafted by the Steelers. Were you surprised to be drafted by Pittsburgh?
I was not expecting to be drafted by the Steelers. They did have me in for a pre-draft visit but I never expected them to take me. I was drafted on a Saturday and I remember Coach Tomlin calling me and then I talked to a bunch of different people. I was very shocked to be drafted by the Steelers. It was a blessing – I am very grateful and thankful they took me!
We didn’t get into too much about my role on the call. It was just more about congratulating me and welcoming me to the team and family and telling me they were excited to have me come in.
Who were the guys that really helped mentor you as a rookie – and I’m assuming Heath Miller was a big part of that?
Heath definitely. He was and still is a mentor to me. He was the guy. He was a pro’s pro and just did everything right. He was so perfect it almost made you mad! It was great watching the way he conducted himself on the field, the way he took care of his body, the way he handled fame and success, and the way he was as a family man.
He was someone you looked up to. He wasn’t a real vocal guy, but we became good friends. We talked a lot and still do. He wasn’t a very vocal leader. He was a different kind of leader. He led by example. You watched him and knew that was they way you were supposed to do things. And if you asked he would always answer your questions.
You settled well into your role as a blocking tight end. Was that frustrating though not being as involved in the passing game as a receiver?
I always appreciated my role. I was fine with it. I knew we had Heath so I was happy with the role. A lot of teams had offensive styles that didn’t need a guy like me. So I embraced it and loved it. At the end of the day I never came out of a game or season upset that I didn’t have more catches. I was only upset when I didn’t catch a pass I should have. Most games I blocked well and protected well. I was asked to pass protect a lot.
I took the most pride in my pass protection throughout my NFL career. I was asked to do it a lot and I pride myself in keeping Ben from being touched. Not that no one ever got to him, but it didn’t happen often.
Any fun memories that stand out of your time in Pittsburgh?
In general, nobody likes going to training camp. It’s grueling. But it’s also so fun – you’re spending your days with friends. Your banged up and tired, but there’s still down time with your buddies. It’s a great way to get close to teammates.
I do remember once – my rookie or second year. I came in a year after Cowher left – with Coach Tomlin. Cowher always did something spontaneous in camp when guys were miserable. Buses would roll up and they’d go to the movies or something.
Well, this time under Tomlin, a couple of guys played a practical joke. During camp all of the sudden buses started rolling in. They ordered the buses as a joke – just to get the guys excited, They even spread rumors that they’d be taken somewhere fun. Tomlin didn’t know anything about it and I don’t think he was very happy!
Who were the culprits?
I think it was Jeff Reed and Greg Warren, but I’m not sure. It’s usually the specialists. Not that they don’t work hard, but they have more free time!
Back to your role as a blocking tight end. Do you like the direction of the position as more of a receiver now?
The one thing about football is that the changes always happen in a circular fashion. Everything happens in phases. Things phase out then come back. That’s why I was so grateful for my time in Pittsburgh playing for guys like Haley and Arians. Their offense needed a guy like me. What I did didn’t often show up in the stat column, but they appreciated a guy like me.
You left for a few years in free agency then returned to the team in 2013. How had the team changed from your perspective?
My first four years there it was a really experienced team. All of the guys on defense – guys like Hampton,. Smith, Farrior – it was an awesome defense. But that was near the end of many of their careers. So when I came back it was a different team roster-wise. It was a much younger team. The guys were different. You looked for those experienced guys who made the big plays.
My first stint was like the opposite of my second stint. The first time we had a good offense and a great defense that would win games for you. The second time we had a good defense but a great offense.
You mentioned playing for Haley. How was that for you – did you like playing for him and were the issues between he and Ben overplayed?
I think they were, yes. Though I was a naive guy to what was going on around me. I focused on the tight ends room – things going on around me. Not that I didn’t care about those things but I focused on what i could control and took care of myself. But I do think it was overblown. I had a good relationship with Arians and Haley.
Lastly, any advice for younger guys coming into the game today?
I’d tell them to embrace their role. You may not be a Heath Miller or Gronkowski, but you can have a great time and great career if you embrace your role. You don’t have to master everything, but if you can master one thing you can succeed in the NFL.
Read more by former Steelers via the book Steelers Takeaways: Player Memories Through the Decades. To order, just click on the book: