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Responding to the challenge

Posted Nov 20, 2011

Jonathan Dwyer didn’t understand why this was happening to him. He paid attention in class, he would do his homework, he would study for a test just as long as his other grade-school classmates. But when it was time to take the test, he wasn’t able to retain what he had been taught, what he had been studying. And consequently, his grades were not good.

“There was a point in my life when things started getting hard for me with school and just my life, just forgetting things,” said Dwyer. “I would be studying all night long, forgetting my homework at home, and going blank in the middle of a test. It was discouraging. My parents and I knew I was a smart kid, but it wasn’t showing in my grades.”
         
It was a daily, frustrating battle he fought. He was confused and disappointed, and there didn’t seem to be an answer until a teacher at Shiloh Hills Christian School in Georgia suggested the fifth grader see a doctor.
         
The results were enlightening and for Dwyer, life-changing. He was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD), a disorder that is associated with hyperactivity that results in lack of attention and concentration, impaired short–term memory, and inability to manage time.
          “
That was the greatest thing that happened in my life,” said Dwyer of the diagnosis. “Before that it was a very discouraging time for a kid. You know how smart you are. You know what you can do, what you are capable of and it’s not showing. You can study, but you get distracted easily. You sort of lose your sense of concentration.   

“You start to be hard on yourself, question your ability and talent. It can be quite discouraging for a young kid.”

The diagnosis allowed Dwyer to be treated for ADD with medication, and he gradually went from a C-D student to an A-B student. 

“I really saw my grades change dramatically, which helped a lot,” said Dwyer. “We were lucky we found out what it was, how to treat it, how to take care of it. From there the rest is history.”

Sports are another area where ADD can have an impact, because it can affect motor skills and the ability to focus, but it also can steer those with the condition toward the more individual sports. But for Dwyer, playing a team sport came easily. His ADD never slowed him, never held him back or kept him from succeeding.  

“Athletics were never a problem for me,” said Dwyer. “School was my discouraging time. But sports were my freedom to be who I was and have fun.”

Dwyer continues to take medication for ADD, something that he will have to do his entire life. 

“It helps me focus,” said Dwyer. “It helps me so I can be real in-depth with my understanding of what coaches are saying, what everyone else is telling me and be real dialed in.”

By his own admission, Dwyer wasn’t as “dialed in” as he should have been over the last year. It wasn’t the result of the ADD, but rather the approach he took after he was drafted by the Steelers in the sixth-round in 2010 out of Georgia Tech.  

As a rookie, Dwyer joined a backfield already loaded with Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman and Mewelde Moore, and he didn’t distinguish himself in a positive way.

“I didn’t handle the things the way I should of,” said Dwyer. “I put everything on me. They gave me the opportunity and I didn’t live up to it. I didn’t know how to be a pro. Not knowing how to take care of myself on and off the field. Not doing the little things to help me be a better player.”

Dwyer saw what happens when you don’t do the necessary things: life on the inactive list. He was inactive for 15 of 16 regular season games last year, with his only action coming in the finale against the Cleveland Browns because the Steelers were resting their top backs for the playoffs.

“I think what discouraged me was I wasn’t playing as much as I was used to in college,” said Dwyer. “In reality that was a good thing. They realized I wasn’t ready. Physically I was ready, mentally I wasn’t.”

He was inactive through the playoffs, including Super Bowl XLV. 

“It made me humble myself,” said Dwyer. “It made me realize there are other guys better than me. I understand the coaching staff is going to put me in the best situation possible. When they know I am ready, when they believe in me, they are going to put me out there. I’m soaking it all up and know I have to prove myself to them. I need to put good stuff on tape and practice like a pro.”

As soon as the 2010 season ended Dwyer took that first step by working out, getting himself ready for the team’s offseason program. But then came the lockout and with the start of training camp in question, he slacked off and his weight ballooned. When he reported to training camp he wasn’t close to being in the shape he needed to be. Again.

“The only person I can point to is myself,” said Dwyer. “I can’t blame the lockout, I can’t blame anyone else. I had to be a man and step up and say I messed up and try to fix it.”

From the moment he arrived at camp Dwyer went to work, pushed daily by strength and conditioning coaches Garrett Giemont and Marcel Pastoor, doing cardio in the morning and afternoon, running gassers after practice, eating right and not letting up until the weight dropped.

The hard work paid off just in time for the Steelers. With Mendenhall and Moore missing the Tennessee Titans game earlier this season it was up to Redman and Dwyer to carry the load. This time, Dwyer seized the opportunity, with 107 yards on 11 carries.

“That game was a dream come true,” said Dwyer. “I got to play at home, in front of Steelers Nation, in front of my family who was supporting me. It was great to go out and make some plays to help us win. It makes me realize my hard work is paying off.”

No more did that hard work show than in the second quarter when Dwyer took a handoff from Ben Roethlisberger and sprinted 76 yards down the sideline before getting tackled by Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan at the 14-yard line.

“To be honest before I got the ball I was thinking I can’t believe this is happening, I’m going to have my first carry of the season,” said Dwyer of the play. “Then that hole opened up and I thought I was running through the Red Sea. It was great. The offensive line helped me out and I capitalized on the opportunity they gave me.

“I know I got caught, but it was a defensive back and he had a great angle. You can’t run away from everybody in the league. Some guys joked about it, but you aren’t going to run away from everybody.”

And from now on, Dwyer won’t run away from any opportunities that come his way.

“Every day here is a job interview, every day they push you,” said Dwyer. “Every day I step on the field, in the film room they challenge me to see how much I learned. I appreciate it. It makes me grow as a student of the game, as a pro and as a man to step up and accept challenges and overcome them.

“Looking back now I wasn’t ready. Now I am ready for whatever challenge they put in front of me.”

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