First, tell us a bit about your work with III and Long – your foundation?
Well, I founded III & Long by myself, with four other people. My son has a rare disease that has plagued my family and cost us lives over the years. Sickle Cell Disease has touched so much of our lives – I lost many family members years do to Sickle Cell.
Personally, I just want to build on who I am as a sports figure and be more proactive in helping families fight against causes they can’t control.
Have you worked at all with Ryan Clark yet?
Ryan has been busy working for the NFL – we’re in different schedules. I never got the chance to click with him in Pittsburgh since I was traded to the Jets. We didn’t have the chance to build that chemistry. But I do want to work with him in the future.
Do any of your kids have Sickle Cell?
Yes – my fifteen-year old has been playing football this year. We’re constantly monitoring him. He’s had no episodes. He’s doing well so far. My other kids don’t have it.
Tell us about your event in Pittsburgh to help raise funds to fight Sickle Cell?
We have an event on October 10th – Strike Against Sickle Cell. I love to bowl – I practice my game a lot. It’s something any family can do – so I built it around my foundation. It’s an opportunity for families to go out together and a great game to play together. And they can have a great time with me and a bunch of former players. 100% of all proceeds go to the foundation.
So, what’s next for you?
My next goal is to complete my degree at Ohio State. I hope to open up Sickle Cell Centers so that families can – for free – research and learn about treatments for Sickle Cell. The medical bills can be too much for families. I want to help people get educated on doing the things they can to help. I researched what Muhammed Ali did before he passed away from Parkinsons. He opened up four centers to help people with Parkinsons. I want to give the same opportunity for people with Sickle Cell.
So stepping back – let’s talk about what brought you to Pittsburgh initially. Tell us what you thought when you were drafted by the Steelers?
It was a moment in time in 2006 when I was drafted. I had my first little girl a few months before. The whole opportunity to be drafted was blind. It was going into your next career without a choice. I had to accept what came of it – whatever team drafted me.
I was a Pittsburgh fan as a kid – so I was ecstatic at getting drafted by Pittsburgh. They changed my perception of the game. I knew what the wide receivers history was about there.
I think Kevin Colbert was the one that gave me a call. He said to be patient with us – they’d call back soon. They were looking to take me, he said. I said nothing to my mom and stepdad – they were big Steelers fans too. I waited and then got the call back. “How would you like to be a Steeler?” Colbert asked me. I said “Sign me up!”
Who helped mentor you when you got to Pittsburgh?
Charlie Batch was that guy. He showed me the ins and outs. He means a lot to that city and he gave me an opportunity to get to know him. He was a good friend and showed me how to show up in every day life and maintain appearances.
Outside of Charlie, what coaches helped influence your path to the NFL, and in the NFL?
When I think of coaching I think about two coaches from my childhood that helped me to learn the game: Micky Freeman and Ray McDonald. They were big influences on my understanding of football – how to play the game. They were my wide receiver coaches in high school.
Freeman – the thing that sticks with me is sitting under the bleachers during track season talking the X’s and O’s of playing wide receiver. He saw in me what I didn’t. My first high school game I scored three touchdowns – one punt return, one kick return, and one catch. My varsity coach was in the stands at the time but I didn’t know that. I was fast and could catch the ball ok. I just wanted to learn the game.
They had too many wide receivers my JV season. I learned to watch guys. My coach told me to watch those guys and study their games. In the film room, McDonald would be in the back of the room. He’d ask me about coverages and routes.and quizzed me when no one else gave me that treatment. I wasn’t because I was special. It was because I was asking questions. I was watching guys that were better than me but I was stealing from those guys. That made me the better player in the end. That was my guide to becoming a Super Bowl MVP.
After high school?
In college, God rest his soul, Joe Daniels at Ohio State. He taught me confidence. No matter what happens, you can’t be afraid. We used to practice with the jug machines, and I’d have to catch the ball right out of the machine. We’d take twelve steps towards the machine, catching a pass every step until we we right next to the machine. That taught me confidence. We had guys running right through as we did it as a distraction and other guys trying to distract us on purpose too.
Everything the coaches showed to me was something new. Daryl Hazel – I didn’t like the guy. He and I butted heads. But he became a father to me at Ohio State. He molded me into an Army-ready football player.He took no BS from me no matter how much I complained or whined. If I hurt my finger he told me to just tape it up. I didn’t think he wanted to listen to me, but really, he was teaching me that the next play is the only thing that matters. I became one of the greatest receivers at Ohio State because of him. He gave me the blueprint to be who I was.
And in the NFL?
Bruce Arians – he was my wide receivers coach my rookie year. We had Hines, Morgan, Ced Wilson, Lee Mays…I knew Hines was the guy there – I just wanted to find my place as a starter too. I had a lot of veterans there to look up to.
B.A. taught me how to run a route. I didn’t know how to run a twelve-yard out. In the NFL it’s all about timing. He taught me how to play on time.
He ran me all over the place my first week – I tore my hamstring because of all of the running. He had me run the twelve-yard out over and over so many times I tore the hamstring. Then it was Ben’s most important route.
Arians pushed me. The Super Bowl play, we ran it every day since week one of the playoffs and we never completed it. But it was built for me. B.A. was my father figure in the NFL. He taught me how to be ready to be called on. He would make me wait. I wanted to start but he showed me it wasn’t my time yet. I had to respect that, After the Super Bowl, he told me “See – I told you it wasn’t your time yet!” Now it was.
After that season, you were traded to the Jets How hard was that for you – did they say anything to you?
We just won a Super Bowl, who wants to leave then? But there was no bitterness. It’s a business and they were taking care of it. I had to prove that I was still him – that Super Bowl guy. Then we beat the Steelers that season. But the Steelers beat us in the playoffs – they just knew how to play playoff football.
What did they tell you when you were traded?
Just that I was traded. That was it.
Tell us a fun story of your time there in Pittsburgh…
I still have a picture of this that I won’t show anyone. I remember when Jeff Reed hung Hampton’s pants across the lockers – from one locker to another. I was the locker mate of both guys – it was kind of an inside joke. Everyone laughed – it was from my side to Casey’s side of the room. Casey laughed – he knew right away it was Jeff.
Lastly – any advice to young kids looking to enter the NFL today?
Be smart. That covers a very broad perspective of who we are. I spoke to kids at Ohio State about a year and a half ago and told them their choices and decisions have consequences. Some view consequences as a negative thing. But they are what they are – they happen after every action. There’s always a consequence for what we do.
The choices you have – the decisions you make. There are consequences. I think the NFL is giving players an opportunity to live with their decisions by showing you have a choice in what you do.
I’ve learned and hope I can show others that before you tell anyone anything you have to tell yourself the truth. We tend to forget we tell others what we want to be the truth, but we have to decide what that truth really is first.
That’s who usually comes to the team to become Steelers. Steelers players know who they are and what to do. Every man is accountable for themselves. If not, they’re going to teach you. That’s why so many Steelers become coaches.
Read more by former Steelers via the book Steelers Takeaways: Player Memories Through the Decades. To order, just click on the book: