A 'surreal' feeling for a rookie

This weekend's rookie minicamp will be an opportunity for newcomers to show what they can do on the field.

For one though, it will be much more than that.

Christian Scotland-Williamson is giving football a shot for the first time, after playing rugby since he was nine years old, most recently for the Worcester Warriors in the English Premiership. 

The Steelers signed Scotland-Williamson as part of the International Player Pathway program, and he will be on the roster through training camp. At that point he is eligible for an international player practice squad exemption.

Scotland-Williamson learned of the news that he would be joining the Steelers, his favorite NFL team since watching them win Super Bowl XLIII, when he got a phone call from the organization recently.

"It was so surreal," said Scotland-Williamson. "Of all of the teams I thought I could go to, it never would have been here because it would have been too good to be true. For them to be on the other end of the phone, I was shocked. I almost didn't answer the phone because I didn't believe they were calling me.

"And the journey I was on to get here, it wasn't your usual path to get to the Steelers. It was special first that they welcomed my intrigue in American football, and it to be the Steelers. It's hard to sum up. You never think that call is going to come. Not many players from England have the chance to play in the NFL, especially the best franchise in history. The magnitude and scale of what that phone call meant is still sinking in.

"It was surreal to arrive here. From watching Hard Knocks and games from afar to this, wow. In the preseason our rugby team would watch Hard Knocks for fun and think that is how the other half lives. To have it come full circle is amazing."

Scotland-Williamson, who is from the London suburb of South Woodford, set his sights on the NFL in January, working out at the IMG training center as part of the program. At 6-9, 274, he will work at tight end for the Steelers, but it was his size and ruggedness that originated the talk of him playing in the NFL. He was one of six to be selected for the intensive training program for international players, one that included 6 a.m. practices, and days that lasted until 10 p.m.

"We lived and breathed football," said Scotland-Williamson. "I feel prepared to be able to compete at the next stage. It's the ultimate challenge.

"I always looked from afar and thought my skill sets would be good for it. I played rugby for years and those are similar qualities. But it's not big in England to play high school and college football and get to here. It's one of those where if someone tells you that you have the opportunity, you have to jump at it. It wasn't easy to leave a promising career in ruby, where I had the chance to make it to the international stage. To be able to leave it all behind, shows how much it means to me."

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