It's about more than football for rookies

For more than a month the Steelers' rookies have been getting an introduction into life in the NFL, and while football has been the prevalent part of it, it hasn't been limited to X's and O's.

They have been learning the ins and outs of what NFL players need to know for survival.

The rookie class headed to PNC Park to take in the Pirates game on Tuesday night.

"They are lifelong lessons you can take yourself and instill in others too," said Cameron Sutton. "Not everything might pertain to you, but it's good to be knowledgeable about all of it. There are so many things you can learn from and carry with you and share with anyone."

On any given day the rookies have sat in a meeting room hearing from experts in various fields, giving them insight that can do nothing but help them now and down the road. Among the topics covered have been financial planning and investments to media relations, social media and community involvement, and everything in between.

"It's been helpful," said Scott Orndoff. "They give you a lot of information about growing up, being an adult. This is the first time a lot of us have had to be on our own. We learn everything from how you carry yourself, how you manage money and credit. They give us a little dose of everything we need to know going forward with our career.

"One thing that is nice about going through this process as a rookie class is we are all in the same boat. If we have questions, we can ask each other and help each other out." 

It hasn't been just sitting in a classroom, though. The rookie class attended a Pittsburgh Pirates game and enjoyed batting practice from the field, visited Children's Hospital and took part in the Urban Impact Football Camp and Mel Blount Youth Home Initiative Camp.

Steelers rookies and coaches attend the annual Rookie Luncheon sponsored by PNC.

"This was the best time to do all of this, with us going to camp soon and then the preseason," said Keion Adams. "It's all football then. As much as we could do early, get out there and show people we aren't just football players, we are people too and we care. I am happy to be a part of it."

It culminated with Rookie Transition Program, three days of instruction that included NFL rule changes, player resources, NFL player benefits, and sportsmanship.

"We have to realize that a lot of our younger players, although they come ready in some areas, don't come with the same experiences," said Terry Cousin, player engagement coordinator. "We want to make sure the programs we give them are relatable to the life they are going to lead in the NFL. I relate what they do to football for them to do well in football, they have to take a lot of reps. It's the same in life."

Steelers President Art Rooney II opened the program, welcoming the rookies and making them aware of the expectations that come with playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"We've talked about the opportunity you have here," said Rooney. "Number one, to help us win a championship. It's an opportunity you shouldn't take lightly. This is all about laying the foundation for you to be someone who can help us contribute to that goal. It's not easy to be successful NFL players.

"You are also talking about things that will help you lay the foundation not just for being a football player, but a successful person in life. Building that foundation, that is what this is all about. Take something with you from this and build on it. Hopefully together we will have success, but I hope individually each of you have success and use this as a stepping stone to build on the rest of your life."  

Take a look at photos from the 2017 rookie visit to Children's Hospital.

Coach Mike Tomlin has been hands on with the rookies from the minute they arrived in Pittsburgh, giving the players his perspective and encouraging them to bring the same kind of commitment to every aspect of their lives that they bring to the field.

"It is as much a part of their introduction to the Steelers as football itself," said Tomlin. "We have to minimize the distractions off the field. We have to simplify their lives as much as possible off the field, although that's a difficult task at times. People don't realize that these guys are going through a transition from being an amateur athlete to professional athletes. But so many aspects of their lives are changing as well. They are going from being dependents to independents. We don't take that for granted. We are active in that transition in all areas of their life." 

The lessons learned are ones that the players will carry with them forever, and also let them know that the team looks at them not just as players, but as people.

"Being in college we kind of had a blanket over us, we weren't exposed to as much as we are being exposed to now," said Adams. "These are necessary life things for us to process. It shows they care about us outside of football. They care about the person as well as the player."

First-round pick T.J. Watt has heard some of the stories from his older brothers, J.J. and Derek, who both play in the NFL. But getting the lessons first-hand is completely different.

"Having two brothers in the league helps, but it's different to be going through it myself," said Watt. "It's good to know what to do with your money, the benefits that come along. Once you sign the contract it is a lot of money. You have to know what to do with it, you have to be humble, and you have to know why you are here. I am here to play football. During this time period I am here to learn as much about the non-football things as possible."

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