Community Spotlight: Steelers Rookie Club

Giving back to the Pittsburgh community is something that is commonplace for Steelers' players. They never hesitate when asked to participate in events for local charities, fundraisers hosted by teammates, or visit patients, veterans or share their time at events for kids.

It's something that's instilled in them the minute they put on the black and gold, because it's the way the Steelers do things, passed down from generations before, from veterans to younger players.

A

nd for Steelers' rookies being active in the community is something that has always been a focus, but even more so under Coach Mike Tomlin. The team has developed a Rookie Club, where rookies make appearances as a group, not just introducing them to the team's community service but providing a sense of camaraderie along the way.

"The idea behind the rookie club was to give the young guys a chance to get out in the community as a group and with the support of Coach Mike Tomlin, to better understand the Rooney's tradition of giving back," said Michele Rosenthal, the Steelers community relations manager.

Among the activities the Rookie Club participates in are visits to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, Project Bundle-Up, Steelers Style Fashion Show, United Way Hometown Huddle Play60 assembly and the Holy Family Courage House Luncheon to name a few.

"I think it helps with the adjustment," said Rosenthal. "You have certain guys that are very comfortable when they get out in public. You have some guys that have already made hospital visits while in college. Then there are guys that are shy. It gives them a sense of security to be out in a group and with others in their same position.

"Some really shine and some are quiet, but as they get out there and experience different things it gives community relations an opportunity to see if guys have certain interests, there are guys that have an interest they didn't realize they have whether it be working with kids, seniors or the military. It allows them to let us know those things are ones they want to focus on in the future."

The first event the rookies participated in was the Children's Hospital visit, and they loved spending time bringing happiness to the kids.

"It was a special experience to be able to give back and make people happy," said Stephon Tuitt. "You realize how blessed you are to be in the situation you are in. It's a good feeling to know you are making someone happy just by your presence.

"It was an awesome experience for me and the whole rookie class as well. Nothing can beat it."

The events give the rookies a chance to bond away from football with each other, as well as build relationships in the community, even with some young kids they lend a hand to.

"When you get to build a good relationship with people in the community it's special," said Dri Archer. "We did Project Bundle-Up and I formed a great relationship with the kid that I went shopping with. He really enjoyed it and so did I.

"We are lucky to be able to do this. When we were little there were players we looked up to and we didn't have the chance to get to spend time with them, like these kids do now. They love it and we love it too."

In addition to their community ventures, the rookies meet weekly with Ray Jackson, who handles player development for the team, on a variety of life skills topics. It can range from financial advice to avoiding the pitfalls of being an NFL player, to exercises that have them working together as one.

"My goal is to shed light on things other than football," said Jackson. "That is what they do, not who they are. I want to help them make life decisions. You don't want them to make decisions at the drop of a dime that they would regret the rest of their lives. We try to get them to think outside of the box and hope it helps. You have decisions, choices and consequences. To get them to think about things they never thought about is big. You want them thinking about things other than the playbook, the X's and O's of football, but to think about the X's and O's of life, money making decisions, parenting decisions, right and wrong decisions of life itself. Football is not who you are, it's what you do. Who you are is based on the decisions you make."

Steelers rookies visit the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.

The various sessions, from ones that present the players with challenges that they have to solve in small groups, to others that teach them how to manage their money, are making an impact.

"It really helps a lot having these sessions," said Ryan Shazier. "A lot of times you don't think about those situations and things that can happen in the future. When you try to use that and bring it to your everyday life it helps out a lot.

"Plus it's good to listen to the different opinions. A lot of people have the way they want to do something and don't want to change. When you have a group of guys and see different outcomes you look at it differently. Sometimes you have arguments, but at the end of the day you come up with a plan. Sometimes it's better to have that input from others."

Jackson said another goal of the classes is for it to help build camaraderie off the field, which translates to it on the field. And it seems to be working.

"It gives us a chance to get to know each other better," said Alejandro Villanueva. "For the coaches it gives them the certainty that everybody is focused and committed to the program and everybody is trying 100 percent, even coming up with challenges that are not directly related to the football aspect of things. All of the rookies are really friendly and I think Ray has done a good job of giving us different challenges and making us think about some things.

"As far as life lessons I think I got a little bit of a head start on these young guys, but if I can contribute in any way my previous experience I will. It's good to see different opinions and ways to do things."      

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