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Tyler Grisham,. Steelers Wide Receiver, 2009-2011

April 18, 2014

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.

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