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Antwaan Randle El, Steelers Wide Receiver, 2002-2005, 2010

July 31, 2012

Antwaan Randle El:

First, can you let readers know about the Antwaan Randel El Foundation. How it got started and why this cause is so special to you?

I started the foundation eight years ago. It started off as football camps for the kids. I’ve been living my life for Jesus – that’s my background – I’ve been living for God for ten-to-twelve years. There’s not many football camps that teach that to kids. So, I tied it to the social part – what it is to be a man. That’s what we teach the kids.

I got that from my upbringing – from my mom and dad. When my dad got saved when I was a kid, everything changed in my house. God transformed my dad – he was a big drinker, heavy into the alcohol. He used to kick us out the door when it was time for church. He wouldn’t go but he wanted us too. The way the household changed when he was saved – it was so different.

Now we teach the kids to follow God. Who can you help? We serve the kids this way.

What’s next for you professionally?

A lot of my focus is on my wife and kids of course. And the foundation. I’m also trying to raise funds for a recreational center where I grew up outside of Chicago. I had one growing up there in Riverdale. It was the place to be – it was alive. We always had a good time there – we’d do homework, play basketball and playing games. For some kids, it was home – their home away from home. Some kids would rather be there than home…

The relationships I built there – I still have some of them now. I want to build that back in the community and help kids to get the word of God.

I also want to run the academy like I’ve done for the past two years. To teach kids how to be a man and to treat women better. They think now that having sex with a woman – with a little girl really – is cool, that it makes them a man. That’s the opposite of what life is supposed to be. Everything they see now says it’s ok – but it’s not ok. We’re going to have them talk with girls who have AIDS. To have some of those girls come in and talk to them and see what the boys say to them, and then have the girls later testify that they have AIDS to show these boys the reality of what they are doing.

How did your faith affect you as a player?

It was the journey – not relying completely on myself. I had to do the conditioning and lift weights, of course. But nothing was possible without God. I played nine years in the NFL and had no serious injuries and had been productive every year. I had down years, but won a lot of games. God allowed me to shine on the biggest stages – in Super Bowls and playoffs. That’s the journey – and I wasn’t doing anything on my own – God was with me the entire way.

On the field, I prayed before games, Even in the midst if a play I talked to God. I had no doubts – no fear because I only fear Him. I didn’t fear making a big catch in traffic, making a big block – that was all minor. The guy I lined up against was nothing versus my fear of God.

Off the field, my faith helped me as a husband and father to five children. I’m very thankful. I’m completely committed to my wife. There are a lot of divorces in the field I’m in – 80% of married players get divorced I think. Even with the money and distractions, I realized I had to be a good steward to my family and God.

You were a second round pick in 2002 yet were a “project” as you moved from quarterback to receiver. What made you and the Steelers so positive you could make that adjustment at the NFL level?

They had a plan. My personal workout for Mike Martz when he was head coach for the Rams got around the league. They took a an offensive tackle though, so I went to Pittsburgh in round two. Pittsburgh had a plan for me to be their third string quarterback as well as a wide receiver. That was Cowher’s plan. My idea was just to play.

I dreamed about the NFL. I was drafted out of high school to play baseball, but my parents said no. I was upset at them for a very long time. It turned out well though – the NFL was my second chance to realize my dream.

At the combine Holmgren in Seattle wanted to see me as a quarterback too. But he said he couldn’t be the one to take a chance on me as a quarterback. So the Steelers had a plan and I was comfortable with it. I had faith I could play well.

As a rookie who helped you to adjust to the NFL – both on and off the field – and how so?

My older brother Curtis came down to Pittsburgh and lived with me. I didn’t know which way to go as a young man then. He showed me a lot – our upbringing and belief in God helped me more than anything.

I had to stay away from the clubs and partying. I remember the other players coming in and telling me they should have stayed back with me sometimes! I was never a big party guy anyway. I just didn’t want to disappoint my teammates and God.

The best part was that there were no classes – just practice (laughing). I thought that was cool! I could practice, be done by around 1:00 then go home and take a nap – no studying to do. During OTAs, I’d practice, do film study, ice up then get back and sleep by 3:00. I’d wake up at 10:00 though and couldn’t get back to sleep until 3:30 am – then I’d oversleep through my alarm the next morning and be late for practice. I remember Coach Mularkey telling me he was late for practice only one time in his career, but I was late four times already in my rookie season!

After I got married my second season, my wife wouldn’t let me oversleep anymore. And when we had kids, there were no naps either!

What players helped you most, and how so?

Hines helped me on the field. You just watched what he did and followed it. Terrance Mathis too – the way he ran routes – he was so precise.

Hines talked to me – told me to stay focused and showed me how to gain the trust of the quarterback. That if I ran the wrong route the quarterback wouldn’t trust me next time, so I had to get that right. He also showed me how to use the chicken wing to get open without the referee seeing it. He showed me that I needed to knock the defender out before they knocked me out. We block out here, he used to tell me!

You were an “undersized” athlete. How did you use that to become a better athlete and competitor?

I never felt undersized – I never felt like a smaller guy. Just give me the chance to block on the edge, or catch the deep ball and take the ball away from defenders. I’m 5’9″ but could catch the ball like a bigger guy. Guys may think they had me covered, but I just needed a chance.

You excelled on special teams. How did you prepare as a return specialist and what do you think made you excel in that area?

You’ve got to be smart on special teams. You need to take a chance but don’t take the wrong chances (laughing). I hated fair catches – my first two years I had only two fair catches. But, I had to be smart. The adrenaline rush – picking the seam and hitting it…it’s hard to explain, but it is a huge adrenaline rush.

How much input did you have in the way you were utilized in trick plays? How were those developed – like the one used against the Seahawks in the Super Bowl?

I had a lot of input on trick plays. We ran the pass in the Super Bowl in Cleveland earlier in the year and I realized that if I was on the line of scrimmage, the defender was more likely to tink I was going to go downfield. If I lined up ion the backfield they’d think it was a trick play. That input was what you saw on the field – I talked to the coaches about it. Mularkey did a real good job. I saw some of those plays and was like, whoah!

Who were some of the biggest characters on those Steelers teams and what made them so? Any examples?

Harrison was always a character – his style. The way he is now is the way he was as a rookie. When he came in, he was just running into stuff and yelling, telling everyone how crazy he was. We’d be talking to him and in the middle of the conversation he’d just say “Forget it – let’s just knock those guys out!” I was like, what? He kept that angry look on his face all the time too. You could never tell if he was serious or not.

Hines and JB {Bettis} – they were just jokesters and pranksters. They’d set you up. They’d tell you you had to be somewhere at a certain time for a meeting, but they tell you wrong, causing you to be late.

Of course, in Washington Clinton Portis was a character – dressing up and those videos he did…

You left Pittsburgh in 2005 – how difficult was that for you and what prompted that decision?

It came down to financial reasons. It wasn’t even close, but it was hard.

My last contract year, the Steelers offered me $2.2 million, then after camp, $3.6 million. I was a starter and felt I was worth more so I didn’t the contract and played out the year.  That year, I threw a touchdown in the Super Bowl, had three punt returns for touchdowns and had a good year receiving. I felt like I was playing poker and had the best hand. But they couldn’t come close to the Redskins offer. I had two kids…I wanted to stay, especially after the Super Bowl success, but the offer just wasn’t close.

How different was that team in 2010 when you returned – and how so?

The guys that still knew me said I got my money, so welcome back! Deshea {Townsend} wasn’t there, and that was weird. It was always Deshea and Hines. They brought Foote back, and that was good.

I actually talked to Tomlin when I worked for the NFL Network in 2008. After the championship, I interviewed him and said then that I’d come back home if there was a chance, and it came down to it.

Tomlin had the same style as Cowher – the same fire. They were both great leaders. Tomlin was more of a player’s coach and hung out with the players more. He’d have lunch with the players every day. They were different, but still very similar.

What are your thoughts on the NFL rule changes pushing the passing game and safety as they affect the Steelers?

The NFL has to do it’s job, but it won’t change how people play. The bounty thing is mind-boggling. The object of defenses is to get to the second string quarterback. It’s the same at wide receiver. The name of the game is to tackle and be physical. Good defenses have always had guys that want to rip people’s heads off. In the line of fire – in the trenches – that’s what happens.

The fines – some of them are ridiculous. You don’t want to hurt anyone but that’s the name of the game. Late hits and spearing…they are different. But otherwise, that’s the game.

What are your best memories of your time in Pittsburgh?

The 2005 Super Bowl. It was an awesome season. Winning the Super Bowl and the way we got there. Winning the last four games just to make it to the playoffs and being the first six-seed to win the Super Bowl. It was an unbeleivable road tot he Super Bowl, and throwing the touchdown….I was blessed all the way around.

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