Kion Wilson, Steelers Linebackers, 2013

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First, can you let readers know what you’ve been doing since our time in the NFL – are you still trying to get back in the game?

I’m done with the game – I officially retied. I’m in medical device sales now, working for a company based out of Clearwater, Florida.

Was it tough leaving the game?

Not at all. I always worked on a backup plan – I knew the NFL would not be forever. I sold insurance in the offseason and got my Adjusting license. I always looked for what was  a good fit for me and found it.

Despite a solid college career, you went undrafted. Were you surprised? What did your agent tell you to expect?

I was told I was a mid-grade guy – a middle-to-late round pick. I wasn’t surprised at not being drafted – I didn’t put too much thought into it really. I knew it was a possibility but it was out of my control.  But when I competed with guys that were drafted for roster spots I made it personal to beat them out and show the team they shouldn’t have drafted those other guys over me.

After a few years and a couple of teams, you found yourself in Pittsburgh. Why did you choose to sign with the Steelers? What did they tell you your role would be?

My role was to make the team on special teams. The veterans and coaches early in camp told me the way to make the team was trough special teams. So that’s how I applied myself. I chose Pittsburgh after my agent and I looked went over the opportunities and decided Pittsburgh was the best because of the numbers. They played a 3-4 defense meaning they needed more linebackers. Coach Tomlin in camp told us that the extra linebackers they kept would be the best special teams players.

What made you a good special teams player?

I understood my role. A lot of players didn’t practice special teams as hard – there was les pride and not as much glory. But you can make a great living playing special teams in the NFL. I embraced that and accepted that special teams would be my niche.

Who were the guys that helped you adjust most to life as a Steeler and who were the guys you got closest too?

Lawrence Timmons – we got really close. We hung out a lot together – he used to come pick me up and we’d hang out a couple times a week downtown.

I played for other organizations and enjoyed the camaraderie, but it was natural in Pittsburgh. Foote, Woodley….work was work but off the field we all did things together.

How competitive was that linebacker group?

There was a hierarchy- you knew who would be safe. That year there were sixteen linebackers – the most linebackers the team has ever had. There were guys you knew would be there – Foote, Woodley, Jarvis Jones, Timmons….everything else was a competition. We were all competitive on the field – in practice. That’s a part of the game I really enjoyed.

Who were some of the guys that helped keep it loose?

Larry Foote – hands down. His knowledge of the game was amazing. His second calling was always going to be coaching. The coaches would often let Larry lead the group and work with the younger guys.

And humor – any memories of how the team kept loose?

Camp can get dry and dull – we needed some humor a times.

I loved the home run derby in camp. It helped take our minds away from football. It was a competition out of our normal element. It was my first time ever hitting a baseball. We did it at Latrobe’s batting cages.

Who won?

There were three of us that made the finals. Larry Foote got knocked out early… and the long snapper – Greg Warren – won.

You made the Steelers as a practice squad player. Was it frustrating not getting more time on the active roster?  How did you handle that?

For me, it was a set of rules I had for myself. I knew my role and waited my turn on the practice squad. I worked on how I could help contribute best and waited my turn.

What made you a good special teams player and how did you prepare for the practice squad work?

On the practice squad you mimic your opponent and prepare. If a guy goes down due to injury , or if I get a bump up, you need to be prepared.

The coaches drew up a lot of the work for you as a player. If a player they wanted you to mimic was aggressive, physical, shifty.. they’d move you around to be like those guys. If it was an offensive lineman that was physical they’d move you there and tell you to be physical too. You take on the roles the coaches give you.

What was the most difficult part of being an NFL player for you?

The mental aspect – the daily grind…  In preseason they play you on defense, then special teams, then defense…. no water breaks! You are playing through fatigue. You are you’re biggest weakness. And then as a linebacker, when you’re tired, you then have to make the calls while exhausted. That was the most challenging thing.

Any advice for young players entering the game today?

Your body is your machine. You don’t get to redo this. Take care of your body.

Secondly, be ready for change. Be flexible – don’t be one-dimensional. You need to have the ability to play multiple positions – for yourself and for the team. If a guy gets hurt, you hurt yourself by not knowing what the guy next to you is doing. Learn those other positions.

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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