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Tyler Grisham,. Steelers Wide Receiver, 2009-2011

April 18, 2014
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First, can you let readers know about your post-NFL career plans? Tell us how you got started in your new job and why.

In my 2012 training camp with the Denver Broncos I suffered a knee injury that required surgery. Due to the extent of the injury I understood I would not be picked-up by another team for the remainder of the season, and I also realized that my chances to get signed the following season were slim.  In light of this and the fact I was starting a family, I needed to have another source of income.

After a four-year career in the NFL and eighteen consecutive years of playing ball since third grade, I knew I needed to step away from the game for a time. I had an interest (and still do) in coaching, but I was excited to first try my hand in business. Like many other professional athletes, I had not had a “corporate” or business job since high school, and my “job” in high school only consisted of mowing lawns and pressure washing driveways.

My wife and I knew that moving back home to the southeast was a wise decision, and I took opportunities to interview with various companies.  I eventually settled on a southeastern regional wholesale lumber distributor by the name of US Lumber. Without having a background in the building materials products industry, I chose US because of the quality of people I work for and with while also receiving management training through various positions I’ve held thus far.

The transition out of playing a game I loved, excelled in, and knew much about into a new industry has been difficult, but I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.

The interview process provided an opportunity to self-examine myself and better learn where my strengths and weaknesses are.  In this season of working through this “personal inventory” I have learned more about an environment that best suits my gifts, passions, and burdens. I still have interest and passion in athletics as well as Christian ministry, and I’m able to invest my time in those interests currently, but I do look forward to learning where I belong “full-time” for my vocation.

Are you done with the NFL – or biding time for another opportunity?

I’m happy to say my playing days are over, though I do miss the competition and my teammates.

You signed with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent in 2009. What made you decide to sign with Pittsburgh – especially as they had a deep receiver corps with Ward, Holmes, Wallace, and Sweed?

I received a number of calls from other teams on the second day of the draft and we compared the rosters on each team.  While looking at Pittsburgh’s roster, we were able to see that they had their number one guys, but it looked like I could compete for a fifth or sixth spot.  It felt right at the time and it ended up working out the way we “planned.”

You made the team as a practice squad player. What was your role on the squad, and how competitive were the receivers on the team – how did everyone get along as they vied for playing time/passes?

I missed some practices my rookie training camp due to some hamstring injuries (“you can’t make the club in the tub”) and I even had a level three AC shoulder separation my last preseason game, but I showed just enough to intrigue the coaches to keep me around for the practice squad.

I was a newlywed and I was on cloud-nine and in shock that THE Pittsburgh Steelers saw my abilities worthy enough to play (or at least practice) for them. With a separated shoulder and pain-killers running through my bloodstream, all they wanted me to do was run routes for the defense. For a number of weeks I could only use my left hand to catch passes IF they were thrown my direction. I normally was placed in the slot to mimic the starting slot for the opposing team’s offense every week.

As far as competition is concerned, during camp I remember the words of one particular coach, “You are not yet on a team! You are TRYING to make this team.” We were challenged to compete against each other everyday and that caused tension between people.  I quickly learned the culture change of the NFL. Sure, there’s competition in college amongst teammates to be “the guy,” but you are all working toward one common goal together as a team from day one.

Throughout preseason most people who are on the bubble stick to themselves and focus on what they must accomplish to make the squad, though I’d still say that most everyone was cordial with one another.

During the regular season there’s more camaraderie amongst teammates, but the level of competition with your position group still exists.

Who on the Steelers team helped mentor you and help you adjust to the NFL and the team culture? And how hard was the adjustment for you?

During training camp, but primarily the regular season, most of the help and teaching came from Hines and Santonio Holmes-two guys that had no concerns of getting released that year. They provided insights they gained from many years of experience, and it was exciting to learn more about the game and further develop my skill-set.  As a guy who most thought would never reach the level of the NFL, receiving instruction from those guys was incredible.  Hines taught me how to practice like a professional; unlike the college game where you’re still pushed physically throughout the course of the season, the NFL game requires you to practice smarter to make it to game-day feeling your best.

The team struggled at times during that 2009 season. What was behind those struggles, in your opinion, and how did the team and coaching staff handle the ups and downs of that 9-7 season?

The thought of joining the reigning Super Bowl Champions was exciting and there was potential to have another great club the 2009 season.  To go from winning the Super Bowl to not making the playoffs was surprising for me, especially after the great start we had, but I understand the Steelers had twice suffered the same results after winning a Super Bowl in the past history of the club.

It is hard to say what was behind the struggles particularly during the five game losing streak we had. I remember we were thin at some positions because of injuries to key players. There was talk about our defense being too old that season (as well as the 2010-2011 seasons)…and now people complain that all the “old” staples to the Steelers’ organization are gone. Simply put, in 2009 we had the players (who won the Super Bowl the prior year) and we underperformed.

You read a lot about the loss of leadership on the current Steelers team as it looks to transition from veterans to younger players. Who were the leaders on the Steelers teams you played for and how did they assert themselves as leaders? Any examples?

As mentioned, Hines was certainly a key part to our wide receiver position group as well as a team leader and everyone respected him. Hines was always willing to share his opinion or offer advice for all wide receivers. I also enjoyed learning from Jerricho Cotchery. Jerricho was a quiet leader who was a stable and consistent wideout. He practiced harder than anyone and showed us how to work. He was a great mentor for many of the younger guys.

I was encouraged a great deal by Aaron Smith my rookie year.  He had been there and done that, so he didn’t shy away from giving praise where praise was due. Aaron would tell you when you performed well and would also be honest when you needed to pick your game up.  Not only was he a force on the defensive line and a leader and mentor for every other defensive lineman, he also led in the locker room and many people benefited from his experience and willingness to teach others.

Troy’s presence was felt both on and off the field. He is a genuinely a kind person who cared for his teammates. He was protected all throughout training camp and during the regular season practices so he could perform on game-day, and to watch him on the field at full-speed was something else.  I am thankful I got to spend three years with him.  A cool story I like to tell about him is that I commented one day on the shoes he was wearing-they were a pair of New Balance tennis shoes. I had been looking at getting a pair and I guess he could tell I was interested in them, so he took them off and told me to try them on.  I did not in any way ask him to give me his shoes (after all, even I could have afforded them on a practice squad salary!), but he would have given them to me had they fit.

We also had spiritual leaders on the team led by our team chaplain Kevin Jordan such as Daniel Sepulveda, Deshea Townsend, Ryan Clark, etc. I was surprised to experience great fellowship with other Christian brothers in the NFL.

At 5’11″, you carried the unfortunate label as an “undersized” receiver. How did that influence your approach to the game and how do you think you excelled most as a player?

Thankfully, in today’s game, 5’11” isn’t undersized.  I know wide receiver coaches that don’t like receivers that are taller than 6’4” because most of them have a harder time getting in and out of routes. I had acceptable linear speed, but excelled in quickness and route running. The reason I was able to be productive in college and be able to stick around the NFL for some time was because I knew the offense well, got open, and caught most passes thrown my way.

The problem I had is that I did not have the speed and muscle endurance that most 5’11” guys have in the NFL.  Being a shorter wideout and an undrafted guy on top of that, I was required to perform well on special teams, and I never was able to perform at an acceptable level on a couple of special team units.

Humor plays a big part in keeping teams loose. Who were some of the guys on the Steelers teams you played for that helped keep things light, and how did they do so?

My rookie year the organization bought a ping-pong and pool table for the locker room.  That investment allowed those who partook to get to know one another more. At that time I was a young guy who had a net signing bonus of $950 and was on a practice squad salary, so my wife and I still shared one car.  Oftentimes she would be out in the parking lot waiting for me to finish a ping-pong match. Ike Taylor and I played doubles-I was salt and he was pepper. By the way, the tables in the locker room did not contribute to losing games…

There are too many personalities and noteworthy stories to mention from the 2009 season, but the NFL is full of guys who can cut-it-up with the best of them, but they know how to cut if off and perform when it’s time.

You found yourself in Denver after a few years in Pittsburgh. How did that occur and how did the two franchises differ, from your perspective?

My agent had gotten a call from Denver after the 2011 season and they were interested in me.  My wife and I struggled with the question of whether I should attend one more training camp to make the Steelers’ squad or take a chance in Denver. The decision was made for me when Coach Tomlin informed me they would not be signing me back.

The Broncos organization was well-run from the top to the bottom.  They had a full-time nutritionist who controlled the menu and everyone had a personalized nutrition plan. Ownership had invested in a state of the art weight room and I received the best training I had received in my career.

Once we hit the practice field both organizations operated similarly.

What are your favorite moments as a Steeler?

Growing up in the SEC south, my wife and I were pleasantly surprised by the backing the Steelers had by the locals as well as all across the country. I had an interesting experience as a practice squad player in that my wife and I would sit in the stands and watch the games (one change I think the organization needs to make is to have their EIGHT practice squad guys on the sideline) and we were able to see the passion of the fans first-hand.

My wife and I formed great friendships with many people inside and outside the organization and Pittsburgh will always hold a special place in our hearts.  We had a fantastic church family in City Reformed Presbyterian Church (PCA), and we still are in touch with many families from that church body today.

Backing-up Hines was a dream. I learned so much from him and others in my three years with the team.  Having the opportunity to play in four games with the team and record a catch against our rival, the Ravens, for a first down are memories that will last a lifetime.

Matt Kranchick, Steelers Tight End, 2004-2006

April 11, 2014
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First, can you let readers know about your new post-NFL career. How you got started there and what your job/business venture entails?

Currently, I am the CEO of a medical supply import and distribution company I founded in Columbus, Ohio.  We sell total joint implants, trauma products and other supplies to Hospitals throughout Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia.  I currently employ 8 sales representatives, three office employees and in the past we have employed former NFLers and Steelers like Issac Smolko and Ryan Hamby to name a few.  I have a passion for and have found great pleasure in helping former NFL players find careers outside of Football to help them be successful when the games end and that final check comes.

How hard was it to find a post-NFL career and what about your time in the NFL helped and hurt your ability to find your next career?

It was very difficult.   I think it would be comparable to be dropped off on the moon with no formal training as an astronaut and being told to just figure it out.   I was interviewing for jobs with no experience talking about my stats and playing career in the NFL while the people my age I was interviewing against had 6-7 years experience on me.  It’s a very daunting proposition.

The one thing I found out is there are networking opportunities and former players that are willing to help.   When my NFL career ended,  I was living in Pittsburgh with no idea what to do next, so I went to PSU and got the names of every former – Penn State alumni player/letterman living in Pittsburgh. I sent every one of them a personal letter with my resume.  I was shocked that some of these guys were executives at established companies.  I received multiple calls and emails as a result of my letters. These former players offered assistance, interviews, counsel and more.  With all the scrutiny PSU has come under in the last two years, it’s things like that will always make me appreciate the school I choose and I want to pass that on to any former player from PSU in the NFL that asks me for help

What lessons from your days in Pittsburgh -and the coaches-do you find yourself falling back on in your job now?

Losing my college coach was very tough for me to not have that person to reach out to when life throws you a curveball.  I never had the opportunity to play for Coach Tomlin so when Coach Cowher left it was hard because he wasn’t around to talk to.  If anyone is familiar with my three years as a Steeler I was on and off the roster and the one thing that stuck with is how professional I was treated by the organization.  Whatever strategic move that was made,  Coach Cowher always had the respect for me to pull me in the office and level with me and give it to me straight.  It’s not like that in other NFL organizations.

Another lesson I learned was to stay with the team that drafted you as long as you can.  As some point someone in that room, probably Phil Kreidler (who is the greatest scout of all time) stood up and said, “Matt Kranchick needed to be a Pittsburgh Steeler.”  When they put themselves out there like that they will do anything in there power to make you successful.  Once you leave, it’s hard to find that anywhere else.  I’ve carried that lesson over to the business world.  I’ve had offers to be bought out and leave for places with more money but I always fall back on that one lesson.  The grass isn’t always greener and once you are gone, you may find that can never recreate what you had.

You were a sixth round pick of the Steelers in ’04- certainly no guarantees to make the team. What about your rookie performance helped you earn a spot – what caught the coaching staff’s eye and what was the biggest adjustment you had to make to the NFL game?

The tall receiving tight end was just starting out.  We offered a lot of match-up headaches for the slow safeties and linebackers that were crowding the boxes and preventing teams like the Steelers from doing what they wanted to do… which is..to run the ball.  I flashed some speed and an ability to get open and catch the ball and they felt I was someone they wanted to develop.  In order for the Steelers to keep doing what they’re doing with the cap how it is, they have to develop their own talent.  Every year they choose a couple guys and I just happened to be in that group with guys like Willie Parker and James Harrison.

As a PSU alum/local player, how exciting was it being drafted by the Steelers? Did it add to the pressure to make the team in any way?

Being from Carlisle I actually grew up a Redskins fan having attended their training camps my entire life, but I was obviously familiar with the Steelers and the tradition. I wouldn’t say it added to the pressure but it was certainly talked about more being a PA kid.  If I was trying to make the Seahawks for example it wouldn’t have been reported as much as it was with me locally in Pittsburgh and Harrisburg.

What veterans helped mentor you as a rookie – both on and off the field – and how did they do so? Any examples?

I learned a lot from the tight end room.  Tuman, Risermsma, Cushing and Rasby.  They were all professional athletes who knew how to present themselves on and off the field. The coached me on money investments, business and networking opportunities as a Steeler.  I didn’t see eye-to-eye all the time with everyone due to the competitiveness of the business, but I couldn’t have asked for better examples of how to be a man and a Pro.

For example, at my first training camp at St. Vincent, I was unsure of the play.  I asked Jay Rimersma what my assignment was, and he told me and I executed it.  Unfortunately, I was set up and the Sam ran free and blew up the whole play and I got crushed by Cowher.  I don’t know if Rimersma’s actions were intentional,  but I learned a valuable lesson: my teammates were also my competition.  If you want to take someone’s job you have to earn it and you do that by knowing your stuff, not relying on someone else.

How did you as a rookie “on the bubble” deal with the pressure of making the squad? How much did humor play a part in that-any examples?

Looking back on it I didn’t stress too much because I was confident in my abilities.  There weren’t many guys in the league at 6’7 running a 4.53 that were working for the rookie minimum.  My first year, I had a list and kept track of all the cuts and who would make it to get to the 53. I would check guys off and stress myself out, and then in 2004, the Steelers ended up keeping four quarterbacks and four tight ends which they never did, and I was one of the four tight ends to make it.

What part did humor play on those Cowher teams in terms of keeping players loose? Were you part of the locker room hijinks and humor? What were some of the funnier moments you remember and who were some of the funniest players on the team?

I really wasn’t a part of those things.  Most of that was reserved for the Vets.  I worried if I did something dumb or goofy and the coaches or the Rooney’s saw it, they would think I wasn’t serious about my job.  I was there to play football, not entertain.  But it didn’t mean I couldn’t sit and watch and laugh. The practical jokes were great and for those of you that have been in a locker room at any level, it really is something you miss as you matriculate through the rest of the your life.

Who were the leaders in the locker room on the teams you played for – and how did they lead? Any examples?

Bussy (Jerome Bettis), Peezy (Joey Porter), Potsy (James Farrior). There was one time in Cleveland against the Browns and Joey got into it with William Green before the game and got tossed.  I remember the reaction when I came into the locker room, Cowher didn’t have to say anything, Joey was devastated he let the whole team down.  But that’s how it was, none of those guys were out for themselves, Ward, Jerome, they all did what was best for the team at that time, no egos.  And that’s why we were so successful.

At 6’7″, 260 pounds, you had some unique physical attributes as a tight end.  How did that help and hurt you in the NFL?

Even though I ran in the 4’5 and 4’6′s at my pro day I was always told I had to get bigger, so I would eat all the time to keep my weight up and in the end it definitely slowed me down once I got up to 270-275.  My ideal weight was probably closer to 245-250 and If I would have stayed at that, who knows what I could have accomplished, but this hybrid tight end was still in infancy.

They don’t ask Jimmy Graham to set the edge in New Orleans. I read somewhere he lined up out wide at wideout like 70 percent of the plays last year.  I think if I could have done things like that I could have had a longer career instead of being asked to down block and run down on kickoffs.  I have no regrets.  Things happened for a reason and you can’t dwell on what could have been.  I didn’t accomplish what I think I could have in football and therefore I am more motivated to achieve that level of accomplishment in my business career.

You were released by Pittsburgh in 2006. Were you surprised and what prompted that release?

I was released a couple of times by Pittsburgh, but ultimately I left for a roster spot with the New York Giants. Looking back, I was frustrated with some things and took it personally and decided things would be so much better in New York.  As it turns out if was more of the same.  It’s one of my few regrets in life was ever leaving Pittsburgh, I wish I would stayed as long as I could of but the writing was on the wall there.  I left and started a playoff game in New York against the Panthers the year they won the Super Bowl in Pittsburgh.

My legacy is I was on the roster the whole year in 2005 and wasn’t a part of that championship run.  But someday I’ll tell my kids your dad left and started a playoff game instead of staying and wearing a sweatshirt and sweatpants in the Super Bowl.  I can live with that.

What are your favorite memories playing in Pittsburgh?

The fans , the way the city comes alive on Sundays.  I can remember walking into the stadium from the players parking lot and everyone wishing you well.  It was awesome.  I played in Tampa, NYC, Boston and never got anywhere the recognition I got in PIttsburgh.  Being a third string tight end in PIttsburgh was like being the president of the United States.  I can’t imagine how the stars were treated because I was treated that good.  We used to have a house in Harrison City and my wife and I were married there and we hope to get back.  Columbus is where we live now but Pittsburgh will always be home.

Any last thoughts for readers?

I would tell them to keep doing what there doing, be passionate, be fans. It’s what makes being a Steeler different. We would travel and the stands would be 50-50 Steelers fans vs whoever we were playing.  We noticed that as players, it was amazing.  Keep that enthusiasm, as long as you keep giving your unwavering support, the team will keep attracting the free agents it needs and being a place people want to go and also stay their entire careers.  You make the difference, you’re what separates us from a Tampa Bay or a Jacksonville.   Don’t forget that.

Stefan Logan, Steelers Kick Returner/Wide Receiver, 2009

April 6, 2014
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First, can you let readers know about your time in the CFL. How has the CFL and BC specifically enabled you to find success as a professional football player?

The British Columbia (BC) Lions have let me come in and play and did not even think twice about my size or what disadvantage or advantages I  had to play the game. It helped me become a better person and football player because nothing was giving to me – I had to earn it.

How were you recruited by BC/the CFL coming out of the University of South Dakota? How did you decide on playing for BC and in the CFL?

Being recruited back to the  BC Lions was my decision because I love the game of football and can play with the best of them. The NFL is about politics, school, size and money. That is crazy because some of the greatest players came from smaller schools, like Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens, Walter Payton, Larry Allen, Mike Singletary…Etc…

But that shows schools or Size  doesn’t matter. Talent is Talent in my eyes.

You signed with the Steelers in 2009 after finding success in the CFL. What made you decide to sign with Pittsburgh – especially as they had a deep WR corps with Ward, Holmes, Wallace, and Sweed?

Signing with Steelers in 2009 was a great move for me.  Coach Tomlin gave me a chance to showcase my talent to the world and I was blessed to share my adventure in the NFL. But at the same time I didn’t worry about who was on the team. I was more focused on making the team.

They say great coaches will find a way to get you on the field and let you make plays. The wide receiver corps was deep with Ward, Holmes, Wallace and Sweed. But I had something different from them. Size, a good sense of gravity, and I was able to play multiple positions. I learned a lot from Hines Ward – he was a great, hard-nosed football player. And great mentor.

You made the team predominantly as a return man. Was it frustrating not getting more opportunities on offense – and how competitive were the receivers on the team – how did everyone get along as they vied for playing time/passes?

Yes, I made the team as a return man, which was great. But at some point I wanted more playing time on the field because of my completive nature. I would  have loved to do more and help the team but never got the chance to.

As far as in the locker room, everyone got along great. You didn’t hear about people complaining about playing time.

Who on the Steelers team helped mentor you and help you adjust to the NFL and the team culture? And how hard was the adjustment for you?

Who helped mentor me and keep me on the right track? I would say Hines Ward, Roy Lewis, Ryan Clark and Troy Palamalu. The things they did and said on and off the field were very helpful to me. It showed how you be a leader, teammate, and be responsible. And yes, it was very hard trying to stay calm and make the adjustment to the NFL.

The team struggled at times during that 2009 season. What was behind those struggles, in your opinion, and how did the team and coaching staff handle the ups and downs of that 9-7 season

The struggles we went though as a team were difficult because of the fact they were Super Bowl champions. And knowing next year every team would be gunning for that top spot. The team and coaches did the best they could to keep us in good spirits and high hopes in order to make the playoffs that year. But our record spoke for itself.

You read a lot about the loss of leadership on the current Steelers team as it looks to transition from veterans to younger players. Who were the leaders on the Steelers teams you played for and how did they assert themselves as leaders? Any examples?

The leaders on the team were Big Ben, Hines Ward, Ryan Clark, Brett Keisel. Those guys spoke when it was time and they showed up when the game was on the line. They let their play do the talking –  not their words.

At 5’6″, you carried the unfortunate label as an “undersized” receiver. How did that influence your approach to the game and how do you think you excelled most as a player?

Size always played a factor playing the NFL. Yes they labeled me as an “Undersized” player, but I did everything in my power to change their minds about my size. Doing your best doesn’t always help GM’s, and coaches will play who they like. But at the end of the day they put their pants on the same way. I went hard in practices and games. I’m 5’6″ – ok so what. Football is football.

Humor plays a big part in keeping teams loose. Who were some of the guys on the Steelers teams you played for that helped keep things light, and how did they do so?

Guys like Nick Eason, William Gay, Deshea Townsend. Those guys was always had jokes and it didn’t matter if we were winning or losing - they tried to keep things fun.

You found yourself in Detroit for a few years in Pittsburgh. How did that occur and how did the two franchises differ, from your perspective?

Playing in Detroit was very different. Coming to a franchise that had great Hall of Fame players but couldn’t make it to the dance. Talent was never the issue - they just couldn’t put it together the right way to win the big games. On the other hand, Pittsburgh was a franchise that knew what winning was all about. Five time Super Bowl champions and Hall of Fame players.

What are your favorite moments as a Steeler?

Favorite moment as a Steeler?  In a 2009 preseason game against the Caroline Panthers - the first punt return of the game I took for a touchdown, which helped me make the team. Their was no greater feeling then to hear Coach Mike Tomlin say “That’s our returner  – you’ve made the team.” And I was done for the night…

Any last thoughts for readers?

Thank you for letting me share my feelings and thoughts with being with the Steelers and Coming back to Canada playing with the BC Lions. Loved every minute of it. Lets go BC Lions!

Garry Howe, Steelers Defensive Lineman, 1992

March 29, 2014
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First, can you let readers know about your new post-NFL career. How you got started there and what your job/business venture entails? 

For the past eleven years, I have been working for Wells Fargo in West Des Moines, IA.  I finished playing football in 2001 for the Iowa Barnstormers in the Arena Football League.  I met my wife, Connie, that year and decided to quit playing and settle down.  I started at Wells Fargo as a temporary employee through a temp company.

How hard was it to find a post-NFL career and what about your time in the NFL helped and hurt your ability to find your next career? 

I could answer this a couple ways.  First, I actually continued to play football in the World Football League (NFL Europe) [1995 - 1997] and the Arena Football League [1995 - 2001].  I worked part-time jobs in the off seasons, but nothing permanent as I knew I wanted to keep chasing the dream of getting back in the NFL.

Secondly, it was very difficult to find a career post football.  I have my Bachelors of Science in Business Administration (majors in Accounting and Marketing) from the University of Colorado.  I figured this would be a positive, but by the time I started looking for a career, it was ten-years old.  Having the NFL on my resume helped me get interviews.  I felt as though I got a lot of dumb jock brush off.  I received some…you have never sat behind a desk and this is a desk job…can you handle this?  The hardest part was going from such an elite position to a temp job I felt any reject could get.  I was taught a big lesson in humility.

What lessons from your days in Pittsburgh -and the coaches-do you find yourself falling back on in your job now? 

Joe Greene always said ATTITUDE was everything.  Steve Furness was all about the details. Chuck Noll was all about helping where you are needed.  I can’t remember who told me the most important play in football is the next play.  This has helped me tremendously as  it is always important to keep a positive attitude.  While writing my technical documents in my job….details are everything.  Deadlines always sneak up on you and if I can reach out to help others, we succeed as a team.  If a production issue hits, lets get it resolved and keep moving forward.

You started your professional career in the World Football League’s Frankfurt franchise. What was that experience like for you and how did that prepare you for the NFL? 

I was actually on the Practice Squad during the entire 1991 season.  This made me a free agent at the end of the season.  Chuck Noll retired and Bill Cowher was hired.  Bill signed me back for the 1992 season and asked me to go to the World Football League to get some game-time playing experience, so I did.  The experience as a whole was not very good.  We only won one game.  We lived in a hotel in the middle of nowhere.  Traveling around the world was fun.  I had a much better experience in Amsterdam (1995 – 1997).

You signed on with the Steelers in ’92. What made you decide to sign with and play for the Steelers? 

I tried out for the Steelers at college.  They were the first team to contact me after the draft.  I signed a free agent contract with them and reported in June.  The Steelers were the only team on TV while I was growing up and we saw them a lot during that decade.  They were my favorite team growing up.

It was pretty awesome when they flew me in to try out.  Joe Greene ran me through some drills.  I signed later that day.

What was the biggest adjustment you had to make to the NFL game -especially as a nose tackle? How did you make handle that adjustment? 

In college, I played defensive tackle.  I had a lot more freedom to move around.  At nose tackle, you are getting double-teamed every play and are always locked up on the center or guard.  I had played some nose tackle in college.  I played whatever was asked of me.  Check Noll had me playing offense for the majority of 1991 season.

What veterans helped mentor you as a rookie – both on and off the field – and how did they do so? Any examples? 

Gerald Williams was a big help.  We played the same position and worked out in the off season together.  David Little was always constructive, as was Keith Willis and Donald Evans .  I didn’t hang out with the guys off the field a lot.  Mostly Justin Strzelczyk…we rode motorcycles together on occasion.

How did you as a player “on the bubble” deal with the pressure of making the squad? How much did humor play a part in that-any examples? 

I was always “on the bubble”.  I’m not sure people really knew that I never made the squad coming out of camp.  I was cut three times by the Steelers.  The first year I was cut in the final cut and signed back to the Practice Squad.  The second year, I was cut in the final cut and re-signed back to the Practice Squad.  I was moved to the active roster after Gerald Williams broke his hand in week four of the 92 season.  I backed up Steed for four games until I finally got to start for two weeks.

Gerald came back form his injury and I remained the backup for the rest of the season.  I didn’t get much playing time from that point.  I did get an appearance at fullback.  Coach Erhardt put in Goal line Stumpy.  Stumpy was the nickname given to me by Myron Cope.  I was the blocking back for Barry Foster.  At the beginning of my third season, Gerald was moved to Defensive End.  Being that I was second string at the end of the last season, I was hoping to be the starting nose tackle.  I ended up starting camp third string behind Cowher’s third round pick (Joel Steed – 1992) and sixth round pick (Jeff Zgonina).  I was released for the last time in the final cut.  Both those guys went on and had very good NFL careers.

What part did humor play on those Cowher teams in terms of keeping players loose? Were you part of the locker room hijinks and humor? What were some of the funnier moments you remember and who were some of the funniest players on the team? 

I remember training camp of 1992.  It seemed like we were in a monsoon for two weeks.  It rained non-stop.  Practice was miserable.  You couldn’t get your feet and the field was a mess.  I think the weather broke Cowher.  Instead of a morning meeting, he had lined up buses and took everyone to the movie for the day.  It was amazing how that helped as we were all dreading going out to another wet practice.

Who were the leaders in the locker room on the teams you played for – and how did they lead? Any examples? 

Dermontti Dawson and Gerald Williams.  They always worked hard and were always helpful.

You ended up playing for six professional football teams across three leagues over the course of your eight-year career. How difficult was that for you and what do you say to fans who see the sport as all “limelight and glory? ” 

Football provided some great experiences and it also provided a lot of disappointment.  It was obvious early on that the best players didn’t always make the team.  I knew when I was in Frankfurt in the Spring of 1992 and Cowher drafted Steed in the  third round that my time with the Steelers was short lived.  I ended up staying on the Practice Squad and getting activated later that year.  Then going into camp the following year third string behind a guy that I started in front of was very difficult.  I knew it was all over a that point.

I was in camp with the Bengals in 1994.  We had our last preseason game on a Thursday night.  I didn’t get any playing time.  They kept a guy [Kimo Von Oelhoffen] who got hurt in the first preseason game and didn’t practice or play until the last preseason game.  Kimo went on to have a great NFL career.  That wasn’t the worst part.  The Bengals made us practice Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and cut me on Monday.  I ended up with the Colts for the 1994 season.  They were numerically out of the playoffs that year and cut a number of players with two weeks left in the season.  I am sure it was a money decision.

I am not saying that I was the best player, but I was playing in front of people that went on and had great long careers in the NFL.  While in the World League (95 to 97), the NFL was really pouring guys into this league.  I was an All World League player in 1995 and didn’t get a contract offer.  NFL teams were suppose to get all this film.  One would think that making the All World League team would get you a look.  I hope people understand that when a player gets cut, they do not receive a penny of their contract.

What are your favorite memories playing in Pittsburgh? 

Being introduced as part of the starting defense was by far the best…Steve Furness promised me it would be and he didn’t lie.  In 1992, I had some incentives in my contract.  I met the playing time incentive.  I only had two sacks and needed 2.5 sacks to get that incentive.  The Steelers paid me the sack incentive, even though they weren’t obligated.  I used to go out in the parking lot after the games and visit with the fans.

Any last thoughts for readers? 

I would like to thank all the Steeler fans for their support while I played there.  I hope I made you proud and carried on that Steeler Pride!!!

The {Steady} State of the Steelers Union

March 26, 2014

The Steelers headed into this offseason with nine roster spots needing addressed:

DL: 2 needed: Keisel, Hood, and Woods all left. Arnfelt can step in for Woods. But 2 more were needed
WR: 2 needed: Sanders and Cotchery needed replaced
S: 1 needed: Clark departed
CB: 1 needed: Dearth of talent here – especially for those that can create turnovers
RB: 1 needed: Dwyer gone – a veteran, proven back is needed behind Bell
OLB: 1 needed: Depth needed with Woodley gone and no one to step in for 2 starters
ILB: 1 needed: Foote gone and the talent is thin here

What has been resolved to date?:

4 spots so far – with a 5th seemingly imminent

S: Mitchell’s signing locks down the safety concerns
DL: the signing of DL Cam Thomas replaces Hood’s rotation work. A starter-caliber player still is needed
WR Lance Moore replaces Cotchery as the # 3/slot WR. Wheaton will be given the chance to start but they need a more potent weapon here
LB: The signing of Moats takes the immediate pressure off of the LB spot. He can play inside and out
RB: A signing here seems imminent from all reports. Blount or another back seems to be a foregone conclusion

From here:

So, let’s assume a RB is signed before the draft. That leaves 4 roster spots needing addressed, if you consider they still need another LB.

Wild card:  Sean Spence. Can he fill that LB spot – is he healthy enough to do so. For now, let’s do as the Steelers FO does, which is to assume no until proven otherwise.

Draft:

Elite WR depth goes deep into round 2. Elite  CB depth is round 1 only.

So, with this in mind:

Round 1: CB Justin Gilbert, Kyle Fuller, Darqueze Dennard
Round 2: WR Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham, Devante Adams or Donte Moncrief
Round 3: DT Brent Urban, DeAndre Coleman or DaQuan Jones
Round 4: LB Max Bullough, Khairi Fortt or Jordan Zumwalt
Round 5: RB James Wilder, Isiah Crowell, Antonio Andrews

Post Draft:

What this leaves is an issue on the DL and at OLB. I can see the Steelers signing a cheaper DL (Keisel?) and backup OLB (Harrison?) after June 1 cut days.

 Thoughts?

Tyronne Stowe, Steelers linebacker, 1987-1990

March 23, 2014
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First, can you let readers know about your post-NFL career as a pastor. Tell us how you get started and why?

Well I was raised in a Christian household and going to Church was not optional. I was going and yet was not really living the life I was being taught. I believed in God. I loved God, yet I did not develop the disciplines required for a life pleasing to God. I was lost in the world in a world of sex, drugs, drinking, lying, cheating and Football…

I didn’t really know who I was and what was I called to do, and I tried allot of things and yet was none the better. Growing up and discovering was challenging. One thing I did know, I wanted to play football.

Pittsburgh was a great party city for me, and I enjoyed every minute of the funny. But I was very distant from God, yet still going to church. Is that you today?

Leaving the Steel City to sign with the Arizona Cardinals, Changed my life. Older now with children and married, I made a decision to give my all to God. I joined a Church and gave my all to the Church and my pastor.

God slowly moved me up to a Deacon. I was happy and growing in my walk with God, I taught Bible Study and taught children’s Church. Then in 19995 and 1996 I broke my arm with the Seattle Seahawks and my career was over. The pain of the break has separated me from the love of my life, football.

Church became my refuge, out outlet and release and redemption from pass sins and transgressions. Moving on to be a Minister, Elder, Pastor, and today Bishop Stowe of Gospel 4 Life Church. I’m still working on Sunday, my work is just on another field, and winning is still the goal. Pro 11:30: The fruit of the righteous is the tree of life and he who win souls is wise. My position has changed, yet my mission is consistent, still bringing down the opposition.

You have an event coming up soon in Pittsburgh – can you let us know more about this and how people can get involved and attend?

New Life Ministry: Spring Fling, May 2, 3, 4, The Corner of Forth and Viola, Duquesne, Pa 15110

Call 412- 758-8214 for more information and times

What lessons from your time in the NFL do you take with you and use as a pastor?

That making the big plays in life all starts with us doing the little things over and over again. Running through the tires and daily drills is what make big plays possible. Staying focused on the goal, and forgetting about the past or the last play. Concentrate on today and the next.

Paul says in Philippians 3:13-14 but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Knowing that God have given us everything you need to succeed.”  Make the most of your opportunities that life present and be success. I was cut four times from the NFL. I didn’t quit, and am now receiving a retirement check, because I keep my eye on the prize or goal.

Did the NFL provide any post-NFL career services to help you adjust to the after-NFL life?

No, No- it’s terrible this billion dollar company has this attitude toward past players. I saw a special on HBO - Inside Sports with Bryant Gumbel. A new white boy is helping the negro league baseball player get a pension for their years of service. The baseball league is paying them. They never played for them –  it was a separate league. These men are paid around the same amount or just a little less than I’m getting from the National Football League. Most of us can’t afford to take our families out to see a game we were a part of.

In ’87, you were came to the Steelers after attending school at Rutgers. How as that for you?

I was not a drafted pick, I was a free agent. I played during the strike and made the team after the strike was over.

Were you excited to sign with the Steelers and what did you do to make the team your rookie year – what do you think the coaches saw in you?

Yes, I liked the Steelers – and Chuck Noll and Coach Tony Dungy and Coach George Stewart they gave me a chance.

One truth that Football and the sporting world has taught me is you can never have too many tough people on your team. Chuck Noll took a chance on me, I had made a big mistake, and he and the coaching staff gave me a second chance. He said, “You can’t have enough tough people on your team.”  I never failed, his trust again. Tough people make it through tough times, to come out even tougher.

Who on the Steelers team helped mentor you and help you adjust to the NFL and the team culture? And how hard was the adjustment for you?

No one really mentored me. I wasn’t ready for it yet. There were great leaders on this team though.

There was a very deep linebacker corps then- Merriweather, Cole, Hinkle, Little, Nickerson, Bingham were all there then – how did everyone get along and handle the competition for playing time-  and were you content with your role there?

I learn a lot From Cole – Little. Merriweather were great guys also and had a great work ethic. Hardy Nickerson and Greg Llyod – I was very close with them also. We got along well because we respected what each one of us could do to help us win.

Competition was part of the job - it wasn’t a problem.

No, I was not content with the playing time and that is why I left. I broke the starting lines with the Cardinals and Redskins and Seattle.

The ’87-’90 years were tough for the team. What caused some of the struggles on those teams over those three years and how did the players and coaches handle those struggles?

I’m not quite sure on the struggles, because I was in my own personal struggle of just getting on the team and staying on the team. Someone got hurt and I went from play football to babysitting my daughter. What a change in occupation in a week!

You read a lot about the loss of leadership on the current Steelers team as it looks to transition from veterans to younger players. Who were the leaders on the Steelers teams you played for and how did they assert themselves as leaders?

Looking at now it was easy to see that we lacked leadership, and yes some of the stars, they didn’t shine as they wanted too. New leaders were emerging like Hardy Nickerson and Greg Lloyd. We had no leader to look to when the chips were down.

You read a lot about the loss of leadership on the current Steelers team as it looks to transition from veterans to younger players. Who were the leaders on the Steelers teams you played for and how did they assert themselves as leaders?

Terry Long, Mike Webster, Donny Shell, DeWayne woodruff, Stallworth, Mark Malone, Bryan Hinkle …  They played as best they could, and headed team meetings. They did their best!

Humor plays a big part in keeping teams loose. Who were some of the guys on the Steelers teams you played for that helped keep things light, and how did they do so? Any examples of the hijinks/personalities?

Larry Griffin, Cornell Gowdy, Rod Woodson, Bubby Brister-  country  boy quarterback!

After four years with the Steelers, how difficult was it for you to leave the team for Phoenix in ’90 and what caused the move?

It was hard to move.  I love the team and the city. I just had to move for money and a chance to start.

What are your favorite moments as a Steeler?

When I knocked Robert Delpino out on Monday night football. We were playing against the Rams in 1990. Everybody called from everywhere about the hit! He was out for two time outs and four commercials!

Any last thoughts for readers

Life is what you made it. Don’t blame anyone for where you are in life. You are there because of the choices and the decision you have made, God is merciful and kind know that today is a new start, to make new choices. Don’t stay stuck, The best is still yet to come for you.

Keep you dream alive. Proverbs 24:1-For a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again, but the wicked shall fall by calamity.

Donnell Woolford, Steelers Cornerback, 1997-1998

March 16, 2014
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First, can you let readers know about the Greater Chicago Flag Football League and other post-NFL endeavors? How did you get started in these and why?

The Greater Chicago Football League is an Organization that is solely interested in building self-esteem among its players.  I am also very actively involved with The Boys and Girls Club. I became a part of these Organizations because I have a passion for children and want to give them the same opportunities I was given by The Boys and Girls Club as a youth.

Did the NFL give you any post-NFL career help/guidance – and did you find it useful as you transitioned from the game to non-NFL life?

I had no ” Post NFL Guidance, therefore this transition was a little difficult for me.

You were a first round pick of the Bears in ’89. Were you surprised to go so high (11th overall) and how was playing in Chicago different from playing in Pittsburgh when you signed with the Steelers in ’97? 

Given my stats, I had hoped to be considered the number one Cornerback, but  I was second.  Deion Sanders was in first place.   Even though I replaced Rod Woodson, Pittsburgh had the best fans in The NFL.

What made you decide to sign with the Steelers in free agency in ’97 – who else was courting you and why did you ultimately choose Pittsburgh?

I grew up watching The Steelers.  Mr. Rooney and The Steelers are a very prestigious organization.  The other team that tried to recruit me was The Washington Redskins.

How difficult was that Pittsburgh defense to play for versus Chicago’s -  and how exactly did your role differ versus how the Bears played defense?

The Steelers has the best defense and were very aggressive.   The Bears’ Defense was more of an ” Attacking” style of play.

What Steelers players and coaches helped mentor you/introduce you to the team as a new Steeler and how did they do so? 

Coach Tim Lewis was always encouraging me.

Delton Hall (former Clemson Teammate, whom had already retired from The Steelers  when I arrived in Pittsburgh) assisted me with this transition by assisting me helping me to  adjust to moving from one city to another and finding housing. Others were: Nolan Harrison; Levon Kirkland; Greg Lloyd,Sr; Jerome Bettis and Carnell Lake.

My teammates were very supportive of me and welcomed me to the team and the city.

The defensive backfield was pretty deep then  – with Lake, Scott, Flowers, Bell, Fuller and others. How did all of you get along and was it frustrating vying for playing time? How was that resolved amongst all of you?

Everyone played  their role and did so as a team.  I did get an opportunity to ” Start”.

Who were the team leaders on those Steelers teams you played for -and how did they lead. Any examples?

On the Offense: Yancey Thigpen and Dermontti Dawson.  On the defense: Levon  Kirkland and Darren Perry.   They were team leaders on and off the field.

Humor plays such a large part in keeping teams loose. Who were some of the bigger jokesters on those teams – any examples of how so and the funny things that occurred between your teammates?

Chris “Chunky”  Oldham and Lee Flowers.  They were always making jokes.

In ’98 the team went through a number of changes and you ended up in Carolina. How difficult was that for you, and how did they let you know about the changes…?

The team wanted a ” younger player” and it was a business decision.  Going to Carolina allowed the chance to play for my home state.

What are your favorite memories as a Steeler and as an NFL player?

As a player for The Steelers: The Opportunity to play for Coach Bill Cowher and wearing  the ” Black and Gold” Uniform.   As an NFL player: being drafted by The Chicago Bears and playing for Coach Mike Ditka.

If you could impart some wisdom to young NFL players today, what would you tell them after having played in the NFL for over ten ears?

To respect yourself and your teammates at ALL TIMES so that you can continue that relationship with your teammates after your career.

*** You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great**

Any last thoughts for readers?

*** Never let the odds keep you from doing what you know in your heart you were meant to do***

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