A year ago Steelers' guard David DeCastro had just finished working out at the NFL Scouting Combine and his sights were set on his pro day at Stanford. It was all in preparation for the NFL Draft, when his football future would ultimately be determined after he was the Steelers top pick, taken with the 24th overall selection.
Fast forward to this year and DeCastro's focus is still firmly set on one thing and one thing only - football. Behind him is everything that goes with being a rookie, from adjusting to new teammates, city and everything the NFL brings, and ahead of him is just continuing to grow as a player.
"There were a lot of new things, a lot of changes and adjustments last year," said DeCastro. "It is different than college. You are living on your own and it's a real job. There was a lot of growing. It's a maturation process that you don't think about until you get there. I am glad it's out of the way and that I fully adjusted to it.
"Having a full offseason now is huge. There are a lot of things you don't have to worry about, the little things you wonder what you should do here or there. You now know everybody in the building and all of your teammates. You just go out and play football and worry about what you have to do on the football field."
He has already begun preparing for the 2013 season, spending a good portion of each day working out and getting in the best shape possible, with his goal to start of the season in a much better fashion than he did 2012.
Many had pegged DeCastro to be the team's starting right guard when last season kicked off, but that never came to fruition after he suffered a severe knee injury in the team's preseason win over the Buffalo Bills on Aug. 25 at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
"It was extremely frustrating," said DeCastro, taking a brief break from working out. "It's not how you want things to start. It's not how you dream things up. But that is life. Things happen and you can't explain it. It was a good learning experience. I learned a lot about myself. I am feeling good now and I am excited to be healthy going into the season."
What DeCastro learned about himself was not how he could handle the physical test of battling the injury, but instead the mental test, the daily rehab sessions alone while teammates were practicing and preparing for games.
"You learn a lot when you are injured about your mental toughness and just being able to handle it all," said DeCastro. "You have to control what you can control. When you are doing rehab it stinks in the beginning. It's tough. Your leg doesn't do the things that it used to. But it's harder mentally than physically. It's just learning to control that and taking it day by day. You get a lot stronger."
What helped DeCastro through some of the tough times was fighting to get back on the field. He was placed on injured reserve/designated for return, which instead of ending his season allowed him the opportunity to work his way back. DeCastro was activated from the list on Nov. 26, and eventually started the last three games of the season at right guard.
"I didn't know what they would do about putting me on injured reserve," said DeCastro. "As a rookie you don't say much. It was their decision and I was happy to do whatever they chose.
"I was definitely happy to get back out there. Obviously I have to get a lot better. The experience will hope going into the future."
DeCastro is looking forward to offseason workouts and OTAs, when he will be able to work with new line coach Jack Bicknell, and is eager for the 2013 season to arrive.
"I am extremely anxious. I have a lot to prove," said DeCastro. "That is why I am working out every day in the offseason training and preparing. It's like any other offseason where I am trying to get in the best shape that I can and set myself up the best I can for the new season."