Steve McLendon doesn't just want to be a good football player, he wants to be great. And he realizes he isn't going to get to where he wants to be without putting in hard work. It's one of the reasons he was a fixture in the Steelers weight room all offseason, always working on his strength, always striving to improve, always doing whatever he can to help the team get better.
"I am going towards greatness and there is only one way to get there, through hard work and dedication," said McLendon. "If we all can accomplish that, we are going to be great together. Sometimes you have to do things yourself to help everyone get better."
He knows it's going to take more than just hitting the weights to get there. If he wants to step in to the nose tackle position that Casey Hampton has not just held down since 2001, but has excelled at, he is going to have to do something special. With the opportunity staring him in the face to start after Hampton was not re-signed, he is doing everything in his power to make sure he isn't able to just handle the job, but excel at it like Hampton did.
"If you want to be great at what you do, you have to look at what is making other athletes great at their sport," said McLendon. "If you can take something from every sport and apply it to your sport, it's going to make you a better player."
He has backed up those words with actions. McLendon has fearlessly dabbled in trying some aspect of just about every sport, from baseball to ballet, karate to swimming, to make him a better player.
McLendon has worked with Chip Smith from CES Performance in Atlanta, pulling in something from various sports. He utilized standing at a batting cage to work on eye coordination, while at the same time clearly realizing he would never want to be standing at the plate with a 90-mile an hour fast ball coming at him.
"I think baseball is the scariest sport ever," said McLendon. "I have a lot of respect for those guys. I take my hat off to them. I got in the batting cage, well close to it, and was watching the ball coming. I thought how do these guys even see this ball?
"That is how I learned the eye coordination, though. By the time the ball is released, they know when the ball is going to get there. If I can learn to watch the ball it will slow the game down for me. You can see when the pitcher is going to grip the ball and his throw and windup. It's the same with a center. You see him grip the ball, his windup is the snap. If I can catch his hand and am able to attack him, it will make me that much quicker and better applying pressure to the quarterback, running back and the offensive line."
Karate has always been a part of McLendon's regime, ever since he was a kid and his father, a second-degree black belt, used it to help in his development.
"It's all about discipline," said McLendon. "My dad used to make me sit in splits for maybe 30 minutes long as discipline. It was so long. I think back on it and I am glad he did those things. He taught me discipline. He took the violence out of it and used it for discipline. You could use it to protect, but only when being harmed."
McLendon has used basketball drills to work on explosion, which will ultimately help coming out of his stance and being able to turn either way. He has utilized swimming to improve opening his lungs and his breathing. And yes, this 6-4, 280-pound, defensive lineman has done ballet.
"It helps you strengthen the muscles in your toes, your feet and ankles, calves, knees, quad and hamstring," said McLendon. "It's full body. It's extremely hard. I have seen a lot of greats do it. If those greats did it, if I want to be great I have to do a lot of the things they did. That's how I picked up on ballet.
"Once I tried it, I liked it. I liked how it felt. You can see it on the field. You are doing so much it helps with preventing injuries. I did it my senior year in college and saw the difference and thought it's time to get back in to it. Most people don't look at a guy my size taking ballet, but if you want to achieve greatness, you will do whatever it takes to be great."