Keiwan Ratliff, Steelers Cornerback, 2009
First, can you let readers know about your post-NFL career and Camp Ratliff – what caused you to follow those career directions and how have they gone so far?
After I retired from football I was not done with the game. I started a training group for kids and that turned into a recruiting service. I’ve helped countless kids receive athletic scholarships and I’m now the go-to man for schools throughout the country recruiting Central Florida.
How did your time in the NFL prepare you for your post-NFL life? Did any of the NFL’s post-career classes/programs help you?
My time in the NFL has prepared me for anything life has for me. I am a stronger person mentally from my battles during training camp. I am a stronger person from having to move around and adjust to so many different personalities over my career. The career classes and programs have shown me some thing’ to expect while trying to start from scratch. A job in the NFL is no doubt a dream come true but at the same time probably one of the most stressful jobs ever.
What coaches and coaching lessons have helped you most and stuck with you – especially with Camp Ratliff – and why?
Every coach that I have come across has taught me something along the way. I have taken a piece from everyone of them and tried to mix it all up and create what I consider the perfect coach. One lesson I definitely learned is to be honest with the players, good or bad. Players will play harder for a coach they can trust. Dick LeBeau is one of the best not only coaches but players to ever play so I’d have to say he was the 1 coach I steal from the most.
You signed on with the Steelers as a free agent in 2009. What made you decide to sign on with the Steelers?
In 2004 when I was preparing for the draft there was a defensive backs coach who I felt could get the best out of me. I prayed that his team would draft me. Unfortunately I was not drafted by this team and I wasn’t able to learn from this coach. That coach I am referring to was Mike Tomlin. So in 2009 when I received a call from the Steelers it was a no-brainer to me. Growing up in Youngstown my entire family cheered for the Steelers. Couple that with one of my favorite coaches and the rest is history.
Did the team give you grief, having played before hand for division rival Cincinnati? How so?
There was no secret in the locker room that Hines Ward and myself had a few run-ins during my time in Cincy, but the NFL is a place of business. No one had anything negative to say about my time in Cincy as long as I did my job. Guys in the locker room know that players will leave via free agency and that is common place in this business.
Who were the guys that really welcomed you to the team and city? How did they do so – any examples?
The first person on the team I met was Charlie Batch. He made everything easy for me. He took on a leader role on the team by having gatherings, parties and different functions so that the older guys and new guys would get to know each other. The player who helped me on the field the most was Deshea Townsend. Shea sat next to me in meetings and being that we had similar roles on the defense he went over the play book and film study with me. Shea no doubt went above and beyond to help me learn the 3-4 defense
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?
When I played in 2009 there is no way you can point out a single leader on the team. I tell people all the time Pittsburgh is like a college team. When you are drafted you are groomed to take over when you are ready. That team had probably 14-16 guys with eight or more years of experience. Every position on the team had a guy who not only played eight or more years in the league but all with the Steelers. It’s rare you see 1 team with so many veterans
As a veteran, especially in a strong mentoring culture like Pittsburgh, how did you handle working with younger players to help get them acclimated to the NFL. Was it difficult knowing some of those guys were out to take your roster spot?
As a veteran you learn a lot along the way. I knew once I was picked up in Pittsburgh I had to take on a leader role because I stayed with the rookies during mini camp and training camp. I remember watching film and studying the play book with a rookie, Keenan Lewis. I knew he was gunning for my job but my motto was as long as I did what I could the rest would work out. Keenan Lewis was not my competition, he was my teammate. I was my own competition.
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?
Mike Tomlin was actually the one who kept things light and easy going. When a head coach is as easy going and cool as he is, it makes it easy to come to work everyday. The secondary also was a close nit group and everybody got along great.
The 2009 season was a bit of a letdown for the Steelers – having won the Super Bowl the year before and not making it to the playoffs. How did the team handle those struggles and why do you think they struggled that season?
Well unfortunately I had the pleasure of playing with two teams post-Super Bowl and to me the next season wasn’t as critical. When your off-season is filled with parades, parties, and everyone praising you for your accomplishments, the following season could easily be put on the back burner. The team still had high expectations so it definitely was a disappointment not to.
You changed teams eight times over eight years across two different professional leagues. Looking back, are you surprised at the longevity of your career and do you think fans appreciate the toll the game takes on players – not just physically – but emotionally as players play for different teams/cities across their careers?
I am definitely proud of the longevity I was able to have during my playing days. Fans I believe appreciate what it is we go through and do for a living. If they didn’t they wouldn’t show up to games or watch games on TV. Emotionally no one can judge how things effect others.
Any last thoughts for readers?
Steeler Nation by far is the best group of fans, bar none in any sport. I always tell the stories of how we would be on the road and see terrible towels swinging in the stands like we were at Home every week. The fans play a big part in the success the team has enjoyed.