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Richardson: 'It’s been real valuable'

Posted Jun 18, 2014

Rookie program provides life lessons for Steelers.

It’s a continual learning process for the Steelers’ rookies. They are picking up bits and pieces of the playbook every time they go into a meeting room, on the playing field, or just talking to their coaches.

They are constantly growing, gaining a better understanding of what they are going to need to know to survive on the field when the team opens training camp on July 25 at Saint Vincent College, in what will be a make or break time for many of the young players.

But, this time of year isn’t just about football for the Steelers’ rookies. It’s much, much more.

They are learning about life in the NFL. And that means everything from being cautious of those trying to take advantage of them financially to understanding the responsibilities that come with being a professional football player, where it’s more than just a game, it’s a job.

“Anyone that leaves college and has to go to the real world to a job has to deal with a lot of things they didn’t have to deal with growing up,” said tight end Robert Blanchflower, the team’s seventh-round draft pick. “It’s like taking Finance 101 and Life Skills 101. I think the biggest thing to all of us were taxes. When you are a student you aren’t dealing with that. I don’t think anyone realized how serious that was. But setting up for the future, a 401K and financial advisors, most things 22-years old right out of college don’t always have to deal with.

“There is a great support system here. We learn a lot about finances and being responsible so there is no negative feedback on the program, ourselves or our families. Being aware of things that are out there and getting educated helps with the learning curve and the process of maturing and getting into the professional workplace.”

Every day after the team left the field during the recently completed OTAs, the rookies gathered in a meeting room led by Ray Jackson, who heads the team’s player development. Jackson arrangesd for guest speakers, some who talked about finances and investments, others who warned about those who prey on athletes, and Jackson himself clearly spelt out what the rookies need to be aware of and responsible for.

“It’s been real valuable, learning all of the financial stuff and what things can happen to us that happened to other people,” said cornerback Shaquille Richardson, one of the team’s fifth-round picks. “They answer all of our questions. Even if I don’t have a question somebody else has a question that sparks one in my mind and we bounce ideas off each other and get all of the answers we need.

“There are a lot of things we have to watch for. Nobody is going to help you out for free. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. You just have to ask the right questions and we learn the right questions to ask to make sure the situation is helping us and not hurting us.”

Jackson arranged trips for the rookies to the Pro Football Hall of Fame to learn about the history of the team, to Saint Vincent College to get accustomed to the surroundings and one to the Mel Blount Youth Home, where they did football drills with the boys there. He also dished out advice from taking care of business at home before heading to camp, to getting a copy of their diplomas if they graduated, to housing tips and beyond.

“Talking to other friends on other teams, they aren’t as thorough as they are here,” said Blanchflower. “It’s a blessing they take the time out to get the resources to help us.”

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