Shaun Nua, Steelers Defensive Lineman, 2005-2007
First, can you let readers know about your new coaching career – how it’s going so far and where you hope to take it moving forward?
I am currently a Defensive graduate assistant coach on the BYU football team. I love it not only because this is where I played and graduated but also because BYU runs the 3-4 and we use Pittsburgh as a guiding tool. Our head coach Bronco Mendenhall loves the way the Steelers play on defense and also has the utmost respect for coach Dick Lebeau.
I love this profession and I have learned a lot from it. I learned that it requires a lot of time and you will always and forever be a student of this game. I learn something new everyday. I can’t wait for the opportunity to coach in a full-time position at the college level and hopefully one day it will take me back to the NFL and meet its challenges. One of my main goal is to gain as much knowledge and hopefully be in a position to help the kids back home in Samoa come over and enjoy the same journey I had or even make it a better one.
What have been the biggest challenges and most rewarding elements of coaching for you so far?
The biggest challenge as a graduate assistant coach is doing school at the same time. Graduate school alone is tough, but going to school and fulfilling football duties can be pretty harsh.
The most rewarding is the knowledge about the game of football. Not only the Xs and Os but the relationship you need to have with the athletes to get the best out of them. Another rewarding thing is the opportunity to further my education; I never thought I would get a master’s degree, now I’m only a few months away from achieving that—thanks to God and football.
What coaches and coaching lessons from Pittsburgh do you find yourself falling back on now as a coach?
Dick Lebeau, John Mitchell, and Bill Cowher are the coaches I have learned the most from.
Coach Lebeau’s humility and wisdom is what stood out to me. I will never forget the peaceful feeling I had after a loss when Lebeau conducts our meetings; it was calm, simple and very insightful on why the defense didn’t play well. He would never over react or show any signs of panic. His humility, calmness and wisdom are characteristics I will always hope to attain in any profession I strive for.
I will always remember coach Mitchell’s emphasis on intelligence. You have to be a smart football player to play for coach Mitchell. I always believe that Mitchell would prefer smart players over just athletic ones. He always told us that there are a lot of athletic guys on the street because they weren’t smart enough to play this game. I believe this and I always go back to this philosophy while coaching our defensive line or our scout teams.
Coach Cowher’s energy and enthusiastic leadership style was second to none. His mentality sets the tone everyday. He did a great job of instilling the tough mentality but at the same time did it with class. I loved his passion for the game and his competitive spirit, and that I will always remember.
You were a 7th round pick of the Steelers in 2005 and made the team. How did you prove yourself to the coaching staff – what do you think convinced them to keep you on the roster?
Work ethic and scout team. I noticed really fast that Cowher and the defensive staff wanted people that will work hard. I always practiced hard especially when asked to be a tight end on the scout team. I loved it. There was Aaron Smith, Kimo, Keisel, and Travis Kirshke ahead of me and these guys were not only tough, but also they were the smartest players I have ever been around. I simply couldn’t beat anyone of them out. Work ethic and my love for the game is probably what kept me around for three short years.
Who helped mentor you as a rookie – both on and off the field – and how did they do so? Any examples?
I was very fortunate to get drafted to not only a great team but also a team that had people like Keisel and Hoke whom were both from BYU. The veteran leadership on that team especially on the defensive side was excellent.
Kimo, Aaron Smith, Hoke and Keisel did a great job helping the young guys learn techniques and learn the playbook fast. You would think that veterans would not help younger players because they could lose their job to them but that was not the case at all—these men were true professionals and great mentors. They were always willing to stay after practice to answer any questions the younger players had. Off the field, Troy was always a person I’d go talk to if I needed to talk to someone about life in general.
Did it help having players on the team with similar Samoan backgrounds, like Polamalu, Kemoeatu and Von Oelhoffen (who’s Hawaiin not Samoan, but still somewhat similar)? What are your thoughts on the increasing number of Samoan players in the NFL?
It definitely helped immensely. It is always comforting to have people around that understand your background and where you come from. You understand each other’s jokes, you like similar foods, and you get to talk and share stories of our culture and our homeland. I’ll never forget when Chris Kemoeatu and I first came for rookie camp after the draft and Kimo Von Oelhoffen noticed that we were trying to rent a car and he offered his wife’s car for us to use. I will always be grateful to brada Kimo for that.
Both Chris and I didn’t have money yet so Troy took us grocery shopping and filled up our kitchen with food. We told Troy that we didn’t know how to repay him, and I’ll never forget his response. He said, we could pay him back by doing the same to a rookie next year when they need help. These are few examples of how great the culture is in Pittsburgh.
As for Samoans or Polynesians in the NFL, it makes me happy every time I watch a game and see them play. I came from a place where football is surpassing rugby and cricket and almost every kid’s dream is to go to college to play football and hopefully make it to the NFL. The more Polynesian players (Samoan, Tongan, Hawaiian etc..) make it to division one college and the NFL the more it motivates kids back home and it make them believe that it is feasible for them to make it that far too.
How hard was it adjusting to the 3-4 for you?
I had to gain some weight to play this style of defense and I don’t think I gained it the proper way so that was different but not too bad. This defense is not designed for defensive linemen to stack up the stat sheet. You must be a selfless player to play in this system. I came in with the mentality that making plays was the only way to survive. This was the hardest thing for me to comprehend in my first year, but after learning more about this system I fell in love with it.
It is a very interesting concept; the defensive line gets the least publicity but at the same time the entire defense starts with them. I love it and to me personally it’s the best system out there. But like Lebeau always says, there is no perfect scheme out there but this is the one we believe in.
You were on the practice squad for much of the time – can you explain to readers what a players’ role was on the practice squad and what your responsibilities were in practice and on game day?
Practice squad to me is a great test of how much an individual loves the game. You are at the bottom stage of the development phase for the organization. At every single practice you literally take every single repetition on special teams, offensive scout team, and defensive scout team. This was your opportunity to show that you can play when your name is called due to injuries to those on the active roster.
With all of that, you don’t get to travel on game day, you don’t suit up on home games, and you even get a much less pay compared to those on active roster. To me, I still loved going to practice everyday when on the practice squad. I was on the best organization in football, I basically got a free education from the best coaches, and I was playing football with the best players in the business.
How difficult was it for you waiting for the chance to play on game days?
I never really played or contributed significantly on game days for the Steelers, but the lessons I’ve learned from the best organization in football is invaluable and will help me not only as a football coach but in life. My ways of repaying them back is to take the lessons learned and do well with it and help young players develop. It was very tough not to get to contribute on game days. I was given every opportunity possible to excel in Pittsburgh, but injuries and lack of discipline cost me greatly, and it is my biggest regret. At the same time I am beyond grateful for the lessons learned and I believe that’s what is important.
The team won the Super Bowl your rookie season. What was that like for you – did you appreciate at the time how rare it was to get the chance to play and what was your mindset going into the game against Seattle?
That entire season was so fun; it was an up and down season for us but when it came towards the end of season we caught fire and we were basically unstoppable. I loved every minute of that season even though I didn’t really contribute on game days. Going into that game I knew that Seattle would have a hard time beating us because we had great momentum from going through the toughest AFC teams. We started by beating a great Bengals team then we overcame a heavily favorite Colts team then we went to Denver and beat them to get to the big show. So to me personally we were just on fire.
I learned so much from that year and I am grateful for every moment.
You signed with Buffalo in ’07. How hard was that for you to leave the Steelers and what ultimately prompted the move?
It was by far the hardest thing for me that year. I felt like I let down a lot of people especially coach Mitchell who I knew believed in me. I didn’t take good care of my body and I lost focused on how I got there. Injuries and lack of progression eventually got me cut and got picked up by the Bills.
It was so hard while I was there because I knew I just let a great opportunity slip away with the best organization in football. I tried my best in Buffalo but they ran a 4-3 and I had a hard time getting my weight back down to play that speed end position, so I regret not taking full advantage of the opportunity in Pittsburgh.
What are your best memories as a Steeler?
I loved everything about my experience in Pittsburgh. The culture that the Rooney family has set there is second to none. It takes after its city and its people.
I do have to say my best times were in my rookie year when our rookie class came in at the right time. The veterans on that team were hungry and so were the coaches especially our head coach. It was fun to go through the ups and downs that year and fight hard enough to finish out on top. I got to play with our hometown idol in Troy and also fellow BYU guys. I have nothing but great memories from Pittsburgh.
Any last thoughts for readers?
If there is a team that knows how to lose it’s the Pittsburgh Steelers. They never over-react or panic, and everything they do helps them win. They don’t do too much but they will do whatever it takes to win. I love this concept and I am extremely lucky that I got to experience what this team and this city is all about.
I believe it all starts from the Rooney family and the great love they have for their team, city and the game of football. There is nothing more I can say to the readers about the Steelers that they don’t already know. I just hope they’ll know that I am a Steeler at heart and will forever be grateful for the lessons learned from there. I love them. Go Steelers…