When William Gay went to the University of Louisville as an 18-year freshman, he did so with one thing in mind. To get a free education.
Gay didn't have the luxury of being able to pay for school, nor did his grandmother, Corine Hall, who was raising him after the tragic death of his mother, Carolyn Hall, when Gay was only eight-years old. He was focused on one thing, and one thing only.
"My goal was first and foremost to get a free education," said Gay. "I knew my grandmother couldn't afford me going to college, so that was my main focus. I knew I was blessed with the talent to play football, and that could get me a free scholarship. I just wanted to get my degree and bring it back home to her and get in the work field. I just wanted to do my part and get my degree and come back to Tallahassee and get in the work force. That was my main objective.
"I just so happened to luck out and be pretty good at football."
That he was. At the University of Louisville Gay played in 46 games, starting 26, while amassing 134 tackles, 25 pass breakups, seven interceptions, one sack and was named first-team All-Big East in 2006.
His play on the field landed him a job in the 'work force,' that work force being the National Football League. Gay was the Steelers fifth-round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, and he has played 10 seasons in the league, nine with the Steelers and one with the Arizona Cardinals (2012). Gay, who was part of the Steelers Super Bowl XLIII championship team, has 582 career tackles, seven sacks, 12 interceptions, eight forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. He has five career interception returns for a touchdown, tied for most in Steelers' history.
And now, Gay is being honored back where it all began as he will be inducted into the Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame in June. It's the only state that has its own Pro Football Hall of Fame, and its mission is to honor those who brought 'significant recognition' to the state, or have found great success in the National Football League.
"To think that I would be honored, or get into a Hall of Fame, it never crossed my mind," said Gay. "I was never the best kid as far as athleticism. It's big. Coming from Tallahassee, I came from a smaller city. To be recognized in a bigger city that I didn't know I was going to when I came out of high school, it's amazing. I am so thankful and humbled to get the opportunity. I looked at the list of people that have been inducted into the Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame, and there are some Hall of Fame guys in there. It's an honor to put my name next to those guys."
Among those who have already been inducted and are also Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees are former Steelers center Dermontti Dawson, along with some all-time greats in Paul Hornung, George Blanda, George McAfee and Johnny Unitas.
There are also some other names that are special for Gay, including former Louisville players Frank Minnifield and Ray Buchanan.
"I looked up to these guys when I came to Louisville," said Gay. "I saw those guy's pictures on the wall and I was like, I just want to be close to what they did in college. Now to get my name put next to them in the Hall of Fame is great." Gay valued every minute he spent at the University of Louisville, the lessons he learned, and the way he grew and developed during his time playing for the Cardinals.
"It was the best four years of my life," said Gay. "It was a growth process. I was 18, my first time ever being away from home. I was pretty much by myself. I was 10 hours away from home. It wasn't a let's go home for the weekend. I had to grow up. Those four years helped me to become a man faster. When I came to the NFL, I didn't need an adjustment period. I was already on my own for four years. To come in a professional atmosphere, that was all I had to develop. As far as the survival mode, I had already been through it.
"I got tough love there. Our coach, Bobby Petrino, taught us to be professionals even when we were college students. He told us to be about our business. Be professional any time you step on or off the field, you are representing yourself and the team. I didn't realize those values he was teaching us was going to help me in the NFL. It's some of the same things that Mike Tomlin preaches, being a professional on and off the field.
"The coaches at Louisville taught me a lot. I didn't know I was going to the NFL, so I thought he was just preaching about life. He preached about life whether you are going to the NFL or to be a productive citizen in this society. That is what he taught me, to be a professional. It helped me with my career in the league."