Exclusive with Steelers WR Isaac Blakeney, 2016

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First, can you let me know what you’re doing with yourself since you’ve retired from the NFL? 

Well, I’m on the path to getting my MBA. I’m working on logistics and strategy in business. The holdup for me is that I have the have a certain amount of work experience – I was conditionally accepted for the program but I need real experience. I tried to convince them that my time on the NFL counted – to twist that, but they didn’t accept that understandably. So I have to build my resume.

Anything you’re focusing on?

I was thinking at first of going into general contracting – but that’s more of an independent thing. I think I’m a business savvy person. I believe in education. I’m keeping my options open….maybe banking. I’m still networking too….

Have you utilized any of the NFL’s work-study programs?

Oh yeah – I used their transition program – I sent my acceptance letter to the NFL’s front office and they pay for a portion of the tuition based on grades. They pay for all of the online study but I just like learn while working with people – in-person.

I graduated from Duke – that’s a prestigious school and I got good grades there. In the NFL once you’re under contract they pay for your Spring sessions too. The NFL has a lot of good programs.

How did your college experience shape your draft status and entry into the NFL?

My college experience was great – but it was jumbled position-wise. I was recruited as an athlete out of high school – in college I played safety, cornerback, defensive end, outside linebacker – moved to tight end, then slot receiver before moving to outside receiver my senior year.I did all I could do – whatever the team needed me to do. I was flexible – the coach trusted me, but over the long run it hurt me. I was a team player though – I’m just like that.

But it had to be frustrating?

It was – whenever I got comfortable in a position I had to lose twenty pounds and re-learn things for a new position. Compared to others in the NFL, I had only one year at outside wide receiver. So I was being the eight-ball…my athleticism at least saved me a bit.

So looking at your entry into the NFL – tell me how you got started as an undrafted free agent and how you found your way to Pittsburgh.

I signed as an undrafted free agent in San Francisco but I had groin issues – I tore it twice and was put on the injury waiver after being placed on the PUP for four weeks. I healed then about two-to-three weeks later I signed with Washington, but I sprained the ACL in my collarbone and was out for the year.

Later on I worked out for Pittsburgh – Scottie Montgomery was the wide receivers coach then and he was my offensive coordinator in college, so that helped. I came in on a positive note. I worked out for four teams – all of the teams gave me an offer but I chose Pittsburgh because I thought it gave me the best options to make the a team.

Who in Pittsburgh helped you to adjust to life in Pittsburgh and the team’s culture?

Well, in the wide receiver room, Antonio Brown and DHB were the most influencing. They gave me critiques – on the good and bad. Especially DHB – we were competing for a spot but he still helped me. They both helped with the little things – drink more water, stretching – things that football itself doesn’t teach you – they stayed on me about those things.

Antonio was hilarious – his work ethic he pushed us. I was there during his contract negotiations. He was always joking around…

As you said, you played for three teams in a short period of time – how difficult is that for a player, living life on the bubble?

It’s rough – the NFL is a cutthroat league. You’re one play from being cut, getting hurt, or starting. When you’re on the bubble, the odds are against you.  Coates and I played the same position, but I was undrafted and he was a third round pick. I would have had to do twice as much as him to make the team. As a  business person, I get it. It’s about the investment you have in the player.

In the end I just learned to control what you can control, but it was stressful.

Tell me a bit about the differences you experienced in Pittsburgh versus the other teams you played for.

I played for three legendary programs. But Pittsburgh was different – there was something different about it. You could tell why it was a successful team – the competitiveness.

Just like you hear about the Patriots, the Steelers do it the right way. They were disciplined – they did the little things that made them a winner. The owner and head coach had been there a while – there was a chemistry and comradery, The other programs and other places –  I guess the word for it was chaotic. They had a lot more transition. When Ben says something I know it’s true – he’s been there – to Super Bowls. In the other places, you could tell they were still trying to figure things out.

Any advice for young guys entering the game today?

The number one thing – listen. Lots of guys come into the league and want to make friends and be accepted. I played with some great ones – Boldin, AB, DeSean Jackson…they were always coachable. There is always something someone could say to help them. The gap between the good and great players isn’t that thick. It’s the little things – there’s always something new – that head movement, something that cuts a tenth of a second out of your break that is the difference between a catch or not.

Some younger guys are focused on being liked – they’re more interested in the things that come with football instead of football. It’s not about being liked – you’ll be liked more when you do it right.

Read more by former Steelers via the book Steelers Takeaways: Player Memories Through the Decades To order, just click on the book:

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