*Second-year cornerback Cortez Allen knows exactly what NFL Draft prospects are going through this week. Allen was drafted by the Steelers in the fourth round in 2011 out of The Citadel, after going through the process of attending the NFL Scouting Combine and visiting teams.
Allen shared with Teresa Varley what the experience was like - starting with what it was like to attend The Citadel up until the NFL Draft in this Draft Day Memories.
*Cortez Allen"When you attend The Citadel you have to do your military stuff as well as football stuff. There is a lot on your plate as far as obligations to school, academics and athletics. It's a different experience. Being able to manage all of those things makes you more proficient in managing your time, which helps me a lot still now.
"During the four years you are there you are required to perform in some military aspect. You take an ROTC class every year. You participate in drills. You have a slot for football and mandatory study periods. The timing is very structured. You have evening study period and the gates close and room check is at 11 p.m. You have to plan your day according to that.
"When you first arrive at The Citadel you take a PT test where you have a timed two-mile run, timed pushups and sit-up tests where you have to do a certain amount in two minutes. You have to pass that to graduate. During freshman year we are called 'Knobs,' that is our classification. There are rules that go along with being a Knob such as when you walk you have to do double time. When you walk to class you can't look around, you look straight ahead. It's that way all of the time. It's like you are always on a mission. You learn to be efficient because you have to do everything at a fast pace. In the mess hall food is limited. I was able to get more food because of football, but the others get very little food during the day. I got snacks here and there because of it. I would take my roommate a snack, like a peanut butter sandwich and he would think the world of it. That's how you build relationships; you learn to depend on each other a whole lot.
"At the end of the year you go through what is called recognition day, which is the transition from going from being a Knob to a classmate or a regular cadet. You wake up at 5:30 in the morning. They are kicking in your door, screaming at you. It's a shock to you. It's about 12 hours of a strenuous beat down physically. At the end of that you crawl to your letter. I was in Bravo Company. You have a push-up test you have to do. Since I was class of 2010 you had to do 110 pushups straight. The upper classmen help you get through up, the first step of building a bond. When you are finished with that, the person that had been screaming at you for a whole year comes up to you and says 'Hi my name is, so and so' and you become on a first name basis. It's a great experience to go through that. You see what you went through to get to that point and it's a blessing. I am extremely grateful from where I came from.
"When it came time for me to prepare for the NFL Draft I did attend the NFL Combine. It is the ultimate job interview, especially coming from where I am from, a small school and all of the different questions, things like that, that there were about me. There were the doubts that everyone had that he came from The Citadel and it's not known for football, can he cover NFL receivers, can he do this or that, can he play in this league. I knew the combine was my opportunity to prove to them what I was capable of, as well as playing in the Shrine Bowl and playing against top receivers. Going in I knew this was my opportunity to get myself in the door and for them to see what I can do. I think I took advantage of that opportunity. I was in a lot of the top categorizes in the drills. I think I did pretty well.
"There is always a hint of nervousness for the combine, which is good. I was anxious to get it started. I knew I prepared well and what I was capable of. I just had to show everybody what I was capable of. I was the first one in every drill because of my last name so that made me more nervous. It was a great experience, it was fun. I met a lot of people. I think it was my performance at the combine that got me here.
"After the combine I went back to the school and did some training there. I would get that in during the morning and afternoon. I had some workouts with other teams then too. I tried to stay physically active. I wasn't in class because I finished my degree in December. The workouts preparing for the draft are a different kind of workout than for football, different kind of activity. As far as hard-working, things like that, it's a prerequisite for anything. Anything I do I try to give my best and if I do that, everything else will fall into place.
"I did visit the Steelers after the combine. When I first came here I got the feel of family. As soon as you first walk in the door you see how everyone had a bond, you felt it. You had Carnell Lake and Jerry Olsavsky here who played together years ago and you could see they were still close. That is what I was used to at The Citadel. It was like being back there. It was a great experience the way everyone was with me, with each other. It was a great meeting with the coaches and everything.
"I didn't get much sleep leading up to the draft. It's a stressful time period. You are anxious about when they are going to call, are they going to call. I did workouts early in the morning. It kept me in the same mindset as when I was in school and when my day started.
"I told people not to call me that day. I had a couple of calls, but not many. I let people know. I wrote it on my Facebook page and Twitter…don't call me during these times or these days. People did a good job for the most part on that. There were some text messages, but that's it.
"The first couple of days of the draft I was cool and calm. I knew I had to be patient. Then it's the third day and the fourth round comes and goes through just about the whole thing and I hadn't heard my name called. I am nervous, what is going to happen. I am starting to get anxious.
"I turned off the TV and started playing video games. Everyone else in the family was in the living room listening to it. My mom saw I was a little edgy. She told me to come over by her and set me on her lap like a kid. She did calm me down and what not. I was fine after that; was around my brothers. I was sitting on the bed, still didn't have the TV on, and heard everyone screaming in the living room. My phone started to ring. At that time I had a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ring tone on, just for fun because it was my favorite show growing up. It was a number I didn't recognize. I picked it up and it was Coach (Mike) Tomlin and my heart just dropped. He was like you didn't think we were going to call, did you. He put me on the phone with a lot of the staff and it was a start of a new journey for me.
"There is a lot going on when you are on the phone. Probably the only people I remember talking to were Coach Tomlin, Coach (Dick) LeBeau and Coach Lake. Everything else was a blur. While you are talking you have your family there talking to you too and looking at you. It's a big mess at the time but it's fun.
"Once I hung up the phone the pictures started being taken. I can eat again because I have an appetite again. I was very hungry. Then the phone calls start coming in, the text messages, your Twitter, Facebook blow up. You have like a 100 messages and you exhale and say I made it. The next day it hits you that you are about to do this. It's exciting. It's been exciting every day. Everything you worked for, everything you put your heart and soul into, everything you prayed for is now coming to fruition. You are here and it's another step, a new journey, new chapter is open. Its' a blessing. You thank God for bringing you through. Also with the Steelers reputation you realize you have a lot on your plate. It's a big challenge, but I accepted it and was ready, was prepared for it and excited for it. I couldn't wait to get here.
"I am not much of a crier, but everyone else cried. It was touching my heart seeing my mother (Lois Allen) get emotional like she did because of the sacrifice she has been through for me and my brothers. To be in the position to make things easier for her is great. It's great to be able to take care of the woman who has taken care of you your entire life.
"Everything she has done, she has done for us. I wouldn't see her sometimes because she was working all of the time. There were times we didn't have much, I sometimes would wear shoes from my cousins, even female shoes, because we didn't have the money to buy things and stuff like that. I wasn't staying with my father; I didn't depend on him financially. Everything I got she got and provided for me. I know it was a struggle for her because she had three kids and even though we didn't have much, we had enough and she made sure of that. I have seen a lot of pain she has gone through and it was a blessing that day to give her joy."