Russell Stuvaints, Steelers Safety, 2003-2006
First, can you let readers know what you are doing with yourself these days?
I wok now for the PCA – Packaging Corporation of America here in Pittsburgh. I have two sons – eight and six – and enjoy spending time with them and coaching them in their sports. They are making me proud – they play baseball, t-ball……
Are you considering getting more involved in coaching?
I love coaching. I get so much joy out of it. My football days are done now but I still love football. I would love to coach football for a high school, college or the NFL.
You signed on with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent in 2003. What made you decide to sign with Pittsburgh and how exciting was it playing for your home team?
I was blessed to play foe the Steelers. The day before the draft I got calls from Miami and Detroit but playing for the Steelers was a dream come true. It was amazing – they are a great organization and family – it was my dream my dream to play for them. I hope my kids get to have that same dream.
Who helped mentor you when you first got there – any veterans help you?
Darren Perry and Ray Horton helped me most. They helped me work on my technique during drills. I also had fun with Chad Scott – we had a lot of fun together. But there wasn’t much time for the veterans to focus on helping me. They were getting better themselves – Polamalu was the same age as me. Hope was still young. Ike Taylor was the same age as me..
Mike Logan did help push me. We were from the same high school – I remember when he came back to the high school during the draft to tell us that we could have this opportunity too – to take advantage of it. Watching him on tv – a guy from my high school – he was living my dream. It got my confidence going.
Bettis also was a nice guy. He was a superstar but was always nice to me and I was just an undrafted rookie. Charlie Batch was also great – it was just good to be around those guys.
What do you think made you stand out from the other guys – as an undrafted free agent, what do you think helped you make the team?
I think my energy and effort helped me stand out. I got some decent hits in practice and in preseason. I flew around and made some plays.
In practice, we had one day a week we practiced special teams and ran up and down the field over practicing kickoff coverage and over. We just did it over and over and I was always one of the first guys to finish. I think Chidi Iwuoma beat me sometimes but that was it. Some guys just don’t love special teams – I did all I could.
I was playing football since I was six. I always loved it and always wanted to be there. I think because I played for so long, and because I had so much love for the game, the coaches saw that. My high school coach said I was quicker than fast and my quickness always helped me. I also ran a great 40-yard dash in college and that helped attract some scouts and helped me make it to the NFL.
Who were some of the funnier guys you played with – and do you have any fun memories of your time in Pittsburgh?
The funniest guy I remember was Chris Hope – he always was telling jokes.
Troy Polamalu always wore these reggae shirts. We didn’t know who those guys on his shirts were. One day he wore one with Peter Tosh on it – we didn’t know who he was but it was a picture of a small guy with dreadlocks. We called Troy Peter Tush because of that one.
We had fun with Chad Scott too. He knew the business of the game and always felt threatened by the younger players. I remember when we were lying down resting once during practice and he got up and started running again – he was yelling at us that “You guys want my job, but you won’t ever get it!”
How difficult was the adjustment to the NFL and Dick LeBeau’s defense for you, especially having come from a small school like Youngstown State?
It wasn’t a big adjustment – I knew I could play. Learning the playbook and the plays was the hardest part. It was a huge playbook and there was a lot of terminology to learn. You had to be able to call the plays and make sure all were on the same page.
I was a linebacker in college. I moved to safety when I got to the Steelers. It was a totally different job. I had to learn to drop in coverage more. I was only 205-210 pounds – I always knew I was a safety but I did what I needed to do in college for the team. I knew I would play safety in the NFL..
You left the Steelers and NFL in 2006 – what happened?
I wasn’t drafted – I didn’t play in a big school so most didn’t see my games on tv. I tried to build a name for myself – high school, college….but if you don’t play for a big college you don’t get rated much by scouts. No one watched me, so they didn’t know me later. I had an excellent agent – the same one that represents Joe Flacco. He helped me make it to the NFL.
In 2004 I was on the practice squad and I went to the Patriots for a week on their practice squad and they told me they were going to put me on their active roster when the season started. But they guy the Steelers kept over me tore his hamstring so they ended up bringing me back. It was my best year – I scored a touchdown against the Browns. LeBeau got me on the field a lot. It was a great experience and we had an excellent season before we lost to the Patriots in the championship game.
What advice would you give younger players today, ones on the bubble trying to make a team?
I’d tell them to work hard and believe in themselves. Your chances are limited so you have to make the most of your chances. The drafted guys get to make mistakes – the team has money invested in them. The chances you get are slim so you have to flash so they know you belong. Make plays and get recognized.
Also, put money aside and invest it in something like real estate. You don’t know how long your career will be – don’t spend loosely. Save and do the right thing with your money.