When a player is accustomed to always playing the game he loves, from middle school, to high school, and then to college, it's a struggle to suddenly be a spectator on game day.
Demarcus Ayers understands that struggle.
Ayers came to the Steelers after a successful college career at the University of Houston. He also was a standout at Lancaster High School. Playing time was never a problem for him wherever he went.
Until this season, that is.
Ayers opened the 2016 on the team's practice squad. It meant practicing daily, often times giving the scout team look, and working as hard as his other teammates. But when game day came, it was a completely different story. He could do nothing but watch.
"It was a challenge for me mentally," said Ayers. "I was used to playing the game for so long at every level, and now I am here trying to figure out what I can do to help my team win. You work so hard for so long to get to where you want to be, and then you get there and take a step back.
"Once I figured it out, realized how important scout team was preparing for a game, it helped. I never had to play scout team. In college I played as a true freshman. Sitting back and watching so many good guys do what they do best taught me a lot. Guys would tell me their stories about being on the practice squad. I was back to having fun. I wasn't wondering why am I doing this, why is this happening to me anymore. I was enjoying things."
It was a lesson for Ayers for sure, one that not only taught him about patience, but also made him truly see his own passion for the game.
"I realized how much I really care about football, how much I enjoy it and have fun doing what I love to do," said Ayers. "It made me realize how much I love football. I thought about how many people would be happy to be in the position I was in, even if I wasn't playing yet. Once I figured it out, it helped me get to where I wanted to go."
It also helped that he had someone special in his corner, his father, Mark Ayers, who provided him plenty of motivation.
"My dad really helped me through it," said Ayers. "I remember him telling me there are a lot of people who want to be where you are. Be happy where you are and take full advantage of all opportunities. You never know what is going to happen, when your time will come. Don't dwell on it and control what you can control. That was always my dad. I played for him in high school and when something went wrong, he was always the first person to get on me. He has had the biggest impact on me preparing for games, going through adversity in my life, everything I wanted in a dad, he has been there for me. He gave me the good and bad, and it was all good for me and helped me.
"Being on the practice squad let me sit back and do a lot of thinking as far as what can I do to separate myself and prepare myself so that when the time comes, I will be ready. I had a lot of support from family, teammates, former coaches, every day motivation to keep me going to be where I want to be."
It all paid off for Ayers. He was activated from the practice squad to the active roster on. Dec. 12, and while he was inactive for his first game against the Bengals, he played in the team's final two regular season games.
"I remember being on the sidelines before the games and I would take a minute and visualize myself making plays, execute mental reps," said Ayers. "It was hard, especially for road games, you want that feeling of traveling, knowing you are taking care of business. You watch it on television or from the sidelines and it's hard. It humbled me, but it made me grow as a player.
"When my time came I just wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. It made me hungry. I wanted to make the 53-man roster from the start. I wanted to be playing in games from the beginning. My thing was to get on the 53-man roster as soon as possible. I knew I would do everything I needed to succeed once I got there.
"I remember going into the Ravens game with the most confidence I ever had in my life. That was fun. That was the beauty of it, working so hard and getting the opportunity. I enjoyed it. It was fun to get rewarded for something you work hard for. I love this game and I always played it with passion and energy. It helped me to get by."