Skip to main content

Football and life lessons for rookies

When they first arrived in Pittsburgh for the team's rookie minicamp, the learning process began for this year's rookie class.

There were X's and O's introduced to them.

There were new teammates, coaches and staff to get acclimated with while also developing on and off the field relationships.

There was the transition from college athlete to professional athlete, bringing instant responsibilities well beyond the X's and O's.

That is exactly why the Steelers have implemented a rookie program geared at helping the young players adapt to all things off the field and learn how to handle the responsibilities that come with being a professional athlete.

"I think it's really valuable," said quarterback Kenny Pickett. "Our lives are a lot different than what they were. Getting the guidance that we get is really important. They are pointing us in the right direction. We had meetings every day that covered what we are going to encounter. It really helped.

"It's all the off the field stuff. What we can expect from a family standpoint. How our lives change financially. How to take care of our money. What we should do as the season rolls around because it's a lot longer than college. And how we should take care of our bodies and everything. There are a ton of good things."

Throughout the spring, after OTAs, after workouts, after football was over for the day, the rookies gathered for a wide variety of meetings. They focused on life skills, including financial management and education, decision making, stress management, voter education, and more.

"It's good to get those life skills," said Darrel Young, the Steelers director of player development who oversees the program. "I am a firm believer those are transferable skills. There are so many things you do off the field that affect you on the field. If we can bring all of those things full circle, check your ego at the door with some things, or leave your problems in the parking lot and know that you are taken care of in here it's a win.

"It's good to get back into the groove of things, talk about the little nuances you don't pay attention to while playing."

Young, who played for the Washington Commanders, Chicago Bears and Carolina Panthers, spent time as the manager of player engagement and player relations at the NFL before joining the Steelers. It was what he learned during his playing days and time with the league that he is bringing to the rookies.

"You think about goals, tactics and KPIs in football," said Young. "Our goal is to win. Our tactic is how we are going to go about it. And our KPI is how we measure success. With what we are doing, those things are transferred into the corporate side. You just break it down a different way.

"It's very rewarding because you are getting through to a guy, getting to know them, what their values are, what they believe in and how it fits into the overall Steelers view of the standard is the standard. It's much more than just a business for me. You measure a guy by their heart. I am just here to serve them. It's great to have them open up, share what they like and don't like. That shapes up the program moving forward and how I approach them off the field and work with them."

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

The lessons can be very eye-opening, especially when that first paycheck arrives, and the rookies see how much of it goes to taxes.

"It's been very valuable," said receiver Calvin Austin III. "Every time we have a meeting it's something different. It's things we need going into our first season. We had (actor) Tiki Davis talk to us about decision making. It's not just things needed our rookie year, but in life.

"The financial stuff prepares us for taxes, budgeting, investment information and tips. They stress don't be so eager to jump on things. It has given us a wide range of financial literacy. They also give us free tools, people from around the league who are at our disposal and are here to help us."

The players have also been out and about in the community, including the Mel Blount Youth Home and Urban Impact, and getting to know community leaders and former players. One of the most valuable lessons came from one of their own, former linebacker Ryan Shazier who spent an evening with them at a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game.

"He has an interesting story," said Young. "Everyone knows what happened to him on the field. It's what he is doing after. You talk about a transition that happened when he actuality should probably be our starting linebacker still today. You think about those little things. The things you can't foresee, the uncertainty. If you get in that situation, what have you done to prepare yourself. How he has transitioned, I don't know what happened then, what he went through mentally, but I know where he is today. I want to hear that story. Guys buy into it and pay homage to the guys who paved the way for you."

Take a look at photos of the Steelers 2022 rookies class at their first minicamp