A year ago linebacker Kion Wilson's life was completely different. Instead of learning a defensive game plan like he is doing now, he was looking for a way to pay the bills.
Wilson was released by the Carolina Panthers prior to the start of the 2012 season when the team got down to their 53-man roster. When his phone didn't ring after that, when a team never called to sign him, he knew he had to do something.
"The bills kept rolling around so I had to get a job," said Wilson, who kept working out and training to keep the football dream alive.
He talked to a friend who owned an insurance company, got certified to sell insurance, and then quickly was out in the field as an adjuster. In late October, after Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, he started handling some of the smaller claims, leaky roofs, lost shingles, but the devastation he saw was overwhelming.
"As I worked my way into Long Island where they were hit hard…that area was devastated," said Wilson. "You feel sorry for the people. You wish you could help. It's a business and you have to be fair to the people and the insurance company. It's an eye-opener to go in there and see those things."
Wilson will have another eye-opener this week when he starts at left inside linebacker for the Steelers when they play the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night. Wilson is taking over for Larry Foote, who was placed on injured reserve after tearing his biceps against the Titans.
It won't just be Wilson's first NFL start this week. It will be the first time that he has played extensively on defense outside of coming in for Foote against Tennessee for part of the fourth quarter.
"It's just football at the end of the day," said Wilson. "We line up. We practice. It's something I have been doing for years. I have to get out there, read, react and play."
Wilson won't have to worry about doing any of the play-calling that Foote handled as that responsibility will go to Lawrence Timmons to ease the load on him. But he will be expected to play up the standard that Steelers' linebackers are known for.
"I know I have to play to the level I am capable of," said Wilson. "I still feel my best football is yet to come. I want to show the guys I am someone they can trust and not worry while we are out there on the field."
Wilson entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie in 2010 with the San Diego Chargers, spending time on the practice squad at the start of the year and was placed on the active roster for a few weeks before an ankle injury ended his season. The Chargers released him prior to the start of the 2011 season, and he was signed to the Panthers practice squad about a month later. The Panthers activated him in mid-November of 2011, playing mainly on special teams. After sitting out the 2012 season he signed with the Steelers this past offseason and now he has the chance to take it to the next level.
"It's still the childhood dream that is being achieved for me," said Wilson. "All the emotions, excitement, but I know I have one mission to accomplish.
"I go in with the mindset of playing to the best of my ability. If I do what I know I can do to help the team it should go well."
When he looks at where he was last year, so far things are going very well for him.
"Not many people are blessed to do what we do," said Wilson. "Working two jobs to maintain is not fun. I know what it's like to wake up and drive 80 miles a day not to get ahead, but just make ends meet. For me to back in this position I am truly embracing it and really excited to move forward."