Coming together to lead the way

A week ago, Hall of Famer Mel Blount stood on the sidelines at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex watching a Steelers OTA practice, seeing the team's rookies working on the field for the first time strictly in a football setting.

On Friday, Blount saw the rookies working in a completely different setting as they visited the Mel Blount Youth Home in Claysville, Pa., taking part in a program through the Mel Blount Youth Leadership Initiative.

The rookies joined Blount, and his wife TiAnda, for a program they run for area youth that provides an environment to learn, work, play and to develop principles of respect, responsibility, and leadership through nurturing, moral & character development and guidance.

"This is one of the bright spots of our program," said Blount. "When these Steelers players come, it's special. These kids that come for the program love and admire these athletes.

"I think it does two things. It helps the kids. They love these guys. They watch them on television, cheer for them, are big Steelers fans. When the players come out and sit and talk with these kids, and then see them on television and what they do in season, it's special to them."

The rookie visit has become a right of passage for the players, dating back to Ben Roethlisberger's rookie season in 2004.

"It meant a lot," said Kenny Pickett. "I came out here my freshman year at Pitt. To come out here as a rookie, came full circle. It was awesome to be out here with the guys and play some football, tell some stories.

"I think it's awesome Mel stays involved with the organization and the guys give back. The whole rookie class was great today. Huge shoutout to the kids that came out. We had a blast with them. A lot of laughs. Went through a lot of drills, had some fun at the end. Had a good lunch conversation with the kids. It was a great day overall."

And each time the players visit, it touches the lives of more and more kids, potentially changing their direction in life.

"Over the years we have had so many kids that had interaction with these players," said Blount. "I think it's special because it encourages them. When the players come out, if a guy is a running back, we will have them get with the high school players at that position. They will ask football questions, then share how they got to this point, things they had to do, their background. It's great interaction. With the influence the rookies have, they can really help these kids."

While there are words of encouragement and lessons to be learned, there is also competition. Remember, these are athletes and getting physical is a part of it.

"We did the ropes courses, the contests like dance contests. The kids will create a celebration dance and the players will work with them on it," said Blount. "It's so much fun to see.

"It's competitive and something the kids can take with them."

Steelers' rookies took part in the Mel Blount Youth Initiative helping to guide and mentor local youth

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