Former Steelers and now members of the coaching staff Carnell Lake, Jerry Olsavsky and Joey Porter, all experienced training camp at Saint Vincent College as players, and shared what some of their memories and experiences were like.
Defensive Backs Coach Carnell Lake
Carnell Lake played safety for the Steelers from 1989-98, playing for both Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher, and has good memories from his days at Saint Vincent College as a player.
What are some of the things you remember about training camp?
“The first real memory I have is driving up on Saint Vincent’s campus and seeing how remote it was relative to Pittsburgh. This was isolated and it was an interesting campus. You had a religious type of setting, with a cornfield backdrop and we are here to play football in the midst of that setting. Behind the dormitories you had the graveyard. My dormitory window faced the graveyard. It was like this could be really good or really bad.”
What were some of the difference then and now?
“When I look back at my training camp, especially my rookie year, and the current training camps the players attend as it relates to intensity and the physical side, the conditioning and contact has changed a lot. Back then it was pads twice a day from day one. It was contact. After practice it was conditioning. Under Chuck Noll we ran several 350s. You don’t see that any more. At times you get full pads and at times full contact, but that is very rare.”
What was it like to have Chuck Noll as your coach in training camp?
“I felt blessed working under Coach Noll. One because he was a legendary coach who won four Super Bowls. Here is a chance for me to learn from somebody with that kind of record. Chuck actually took interest in your individual play. I remember him teaching me some techniques I used my whole career. That was unique. He wasn’t aloof. He wasn’t this guy that was on a pedestal or on Mt. Saint Vincent looking down on everybody. He really rolled up his sleeves and worked with the guys.”
Defensive Assistant Jerry Olsavsky
Jerry Olsavsky played linebacker for the Steelers from 1989-97, playing for both Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher and experiencing training camp with both coaches.
What was it like for you going to training camp as a player?
“In 1989 when I first went to training camp it was so fast paced. This is the NFL, we are going to welcome and accept you, but you have to hold your own. I remember following Chuck Noll across the field, running down the hill, around the goal post and then it was going and the last thing we did in practice was Oklahoma drills. It was a wakeup call, but it was refreshing because it was all football. It was survival of the fittest. We were in camp about four weeks before we had a game. You had days when you were thinking where am I? Am I on a different planet? I had tin foil on the window, you could see the mountains, and you would just be getting ready for practice and then doing something you would love. We would have a hard practice in the morning and one in the afternoon, but I loved it. I don’t mind hard work. I enjoyed it. I have great fond memories from all of the years.”
What do you remember from the Oklahoma drills?
“I remember seeing the people lined up on the hill and thinking this is it. We would do the drill at the end of practice and everyone would be watching. You would think who is going to pick the bad straw and go against Dermontti. One year I had Terry Long, one year Duval Love. There is a lot of anxiety but a lot of pride. If you are successful you can pat yourself on the back, but the next day you had to do it again. I liked the Oklahoma drills. It was pure football."
Defensive Assistant Joey Porter
Joey Porter played linebacker for the Steelers from 1999-2006, bringing his intensity to the field during every game, and especially every practice during training camp.
When you think about your days at training camp, what sticks out in your mind?
I would say the Friday night practice, the live goal line. That was the first time where we got to have four plays, all live, competitive. At that point in time in training camp you are tired of going against your guys. But that practice, with those four reps, you actually get to look at them as the opposing team. It was a chance for us to measure ourselves on how physical we thought we were. Everybody thinks they are physical until you actually get put into a live situation. The way we used to do goal line, there was no passing the ball…just run the ball four plays from the five-yard line. You knew it was going to be a run and you had to stop it. It was us against them. That’s how I love it. It was a good measuring stick for us to see where we were physically.
Did you love backs on backers as well?
If you let me tell the story, I never lost a one-on-one with a back. You’ll have somebody that will say ‘yea or nay,’ but I feel like I never lost one of those. I might have lost one in a game, but actually in that drill, it’s going to be hard to find a guy that said he blocked me because we are going to argue about it. I don’t think I was blocked in that drill. That’s a fun drill because Bill Cowher ran it. We knew how important it was. He drilled you so much to win that drill so when you got in a game, it was expected. We would do that drill every day in training camp. The crowd would get up for it. We would get up for it. We took it seriously every day because we were working to get better.