There was a lot of excitement among Steelers Nation when the team selected receiver Chase Claypool in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft, the 49th player selected overall.
Notre Dame Coach Brian Kelly wasn't at all surprised by that excitement.
Kelly knows first-hand what Claypool brings to the table. He saw him grow and develop from an unheralded freshman who came to Notre Dame after the coaches saw his high school highlights on Facebook to a completely different player who left Notre Dame after winning the Monogram Club Most Valuable Player honors his final season.
"For me, his coach, what I have enjoyed more than anything else is somebody that had grown up and matured over his time at Notre Dame," said Kelly after the Steelers selected Claypool. "He was mentored by some great players before him. They have really influenced him as well. As we got to last year, he really emerged because he wanted to live up to that ability as well."
There is one word that has been thrown around when describing Claypool from those who have seen him play and that is dependable. It's a word Kelly couldn't agree with more for the receiver who always came through when needed. One prime example came last year against Virginia Tech when he had eight receptions for 118 yards, which included a toe-tap catch on the sideline and a huge catch on fourth-and-long on the final game-winning drive.
"If you look at our games, when it was on the line, Chase Claypool made the plays necessary for us to be successful," said Kelly. "Chase stepped up and made the big plays when we needed him. Whether it was Virginia Tech, Stanford or USC. It didn't matter who the competition was, Chase Claypool made those big, big plays."
It's all part of a competitive spirit that forced Claypool, who is from British Columbia, Canada, to try to catch the attention of others when he was going unnoticed by colleges in the United States because he wasn't playing in a football hotbed. He put his high school highlights on Facebook and with the help of others, those highlights made their way to different schools, including Notre Dame.
"It's his upbringing that makes him competitive," said Kelly. "Coming from Canada, football was not king there. He was always trying to showcase himself, put himself in a position where he could get noticed. It's Canada, it's hockey. He was always playing that sport that never got the recognition.
"Growing up he was somebody that always had to look out for himself. His mom did a great job of raising him as a single parent. He was carrying that with him as well. I think it's always been Chase's way to be that guy that has to go that extra mile. That is who he is."
Claypool had to pay his dues when he got to Notre Dame. He didn't immediately get involved in the offense, with just six receptions for 81 yards his freshman year. It was special teams, though, where he made an immediate impact and that was something he loved, even begging Kelly to remain on all of the special teams units his senior season.
"He takes great pride in it," said Kelly. "As a matter of fact, he came to me and said coach, you can't take me off any special teams. We were going to take him off of them and he asked not to be taken off any. It was something as a freshman he played on and had great success and took great pride in. It's part of his DNA now."
Another thing that is part of his DNA is his blocking. Claypool is a big-body receiver at 6-4, 238 pounds. He doesn't mind being physical and that will pay dividends as the Steelers like to use their receivers in the blocking game.
"I would tell you right now I have had many conversations with NFL head coaches and GMs that felt like he could play the tight end position by the way he has blocked," said Kelly. "There is no question about his physicality at the point of attack. His ability to go in and block safeties. Is he going to go in and block (Stephon) Tuitt off the line of scrimmage, probably not? But he is going to be physical at the point of attack. He will dominate defensive backs, no doubt."
What else he will do is fit right in with what a typical Steelers player is according to Kelly.
"You got a player who really resembles the fan base," said Kelly. "He is somebody who is dependable, you can count on. He is going to be there every single week whether he is nicked up or not because he has an immense amount of pride in what he does. He is going to bring the physical aspect every week. He is tough and physical, and he is going to make plays.
"He is a Steeler. He is that kind of player. There isn't a better place he could go to in the NFL. He epitomizes Steelers Nation."