Rian Wallace, Steelers Linebacker, 2005-2006
First, can you let readers know about Goals Over Obstacles – what the organization’s mission is and how it got started?
I started a traditional Spring camp for kids in the offseason when I was playing in Pittsburgh. This was to help kids to accomplish their dreams – to inspire them. I brought in a number of people to inspire them – Casey Hampton, Farrior, Joey Porter…the guys all came in to support the mission.
We teach kids goal-setting. Whether it’s to be doctors, lawyers…they learn to overcome obstacles. I’m living proof that the one in a million chance is your to be had, Don’t let the odds defy you.
Wee offer a clearinghouse of information for PSA and PSAT work, then a fun day of sports activities. We’ve grown from a one day camp to speaking events, after school programs and more – anything to inspire youth.
What experiences from your playing days have affected the way you work with these kids ands families?
The things Cowher did and taught – not getting too high with the highs and too low with the lows. To take advantage of opportunities. I instill this with the kids and in my own daily life. Your dream may be taken away but new ones can be instilled to replace them – I’m living proof.
You were a fifth round pick by Pittsburgh in 2005. Were you surprised to be drafted by the Steelers? What were your thoughts about being selected by the team?
The moment I got drafted I was excited – ecstatic. As a college guy I grew up in a family that fought over the Eagles and Cowboys. I didn’t realize until later how much of a blessing and honor it was to be drafted by the Steelers. Now I appreciate the honor of being the last linebacker Bill Cowher ever drafted.
As a younger guy, I had a lot of family pushing for me and a lot of pressure to succeed. I didn’t enjoy it enough for myself. That’s the team you have a successful career with as a linebacker – they have all the Hall of Fame linebackers and rings. I should have taken advantage of that more.
As a rookie, who helped you to adjust to the NFL both on and off the field, and how did they do so?
Farrior, Hampton…Harrison too – he taught me the ropes also. Harrison pulled me to the side and tried to show me how to be a better special teams player. Farrior was my locker mate – he showed me how to be a better pro. And Joey and Casey told me to take an edge out on the field and play with that edge.
What were your biggest strengths and weaknesses as a player?
My strengths were my tenacity and instincts. I never got exposed in the running game. My weakness at the pro level was playing inside and outside in the nickel and dime. I was a raw talent – I never got coached by someone who played the linebacker position until Coach Butler. I never got a chance to learn the nuances of the position.
With guys like Foote, Farrior, Haggans, Harrison and Kriewaldt on the team, how difficult and frustrating was it for you getting playing time?
I saw security in the draft. I didn’t see it as an uphill battle. I believed in my talent and felt I just had to wait for my turn.
LeBeau co-signed what I did on the field, but I never excelled on special teams. I should have put more effort into special teams and valued them more. It would have validated me more and give me more time. It takes three years to really feel comfortable in LeBeau’s defense. Timmons was there when I left and it took him three years – he first made his mark on special teams.
In terms of adjusting to the 3-4 and Dick LeBeau’s defensive schemes, how difficult were those adjustments and what were the biggest issues you had to face regarding those adjustments?
LeBeau was always trying new things out. I played the 4-3 in Temple. I had the body of an outside linebacker but the style to play inside…
Who were some of the toughest guys you lined up against in practice and on other teams, and what made them so?
Kemoeatu was like running into a brick wall. He was such a strong guy.
In pass coverage, going one-on-one with Parker and all that speed. ….Heath Miller – I faced him in college and we had some competitiveness there, being in the same draft class and competing against him to get off run blocks.
How much of a part did humor play on those teams, and who were some of the ringleaders of the hijjinks – any examples of those?
Butler let his meeting rooms go with constant humor. We’d tell Laffy Taffy jokes before each meeting. Our linebacker corps was the funniest part of the team.
We also used to invite other teammates into the meeting room and have our disco club – we’d flick the lights on and off and dance. If I were a coach, I do what Coach Butler did. It’s great to help the players relax and enjoy their job too.
Any last thoughts for readers?
It was my biggest honor to be drafted by the Steelers. It was a blessing to be on a Super Bowl team my rookie year. I use the Steeler way of life in my organization now. It’s the blue-collar Steeler way.
And I had some great times too. I remember my first interception and the excitement of being drafted. It was an honor playing for the Steelers.