By Teresa Varley
Wide receiver Hines Ward enters his 11th season with the Steelers with the same youthful enthusiasm he had as a rookie.
He can't wait for kickoff on Sunday afternoon against the Texans at Heinz Field. After all, that is why he plays the game.
"It's like the first day of school," said Ward. "Wednesday you come in for the first day of game preparation, you wake up early and come in and prepare for the upcoming week."
Not having played much in the preseason and making some changes to his offseason regime has also helped Ward remain fresh and ready to go.
"I rested more and ate properly," said Ward. "I was one of those guys that I was working out come January and February in the weight room trying to prepare for the season. In doing that you are not giving your body enough time to recover from the pounding you take during the year. Jerome (Bettis) told me he would run mildly, but get away from weight lifting.
"Football is football. It's like riding a bike. Day one you might be rusty, but day two you are right back in form."
And having Ward in perfect form is a must for this team. With what many are calling the toughest schedule in the NFL it's no secret that jumping out to a fast start is important for the Steelers. And there is nothing Ward would like than to get that first win this week.
"The home opener is always great," said Ward. "The fans have been waiting since last season for it. For the players it's a special feeling. We don't take anybody lightly, especially the first game of the year. Our goal is to win every game at home. Come this Sunday that is when it all starts."
Ward continues to be a mainstay for the Steelers offense and it's no surprise he was once again voted an offensive captain by his teammates this year. He takes it seriously.
"It's a big honor to be captain," said Ward, who shares the offensive captain duties with Ben Roethlisberger. "To have your peers and teammates vote always means a great deal. It shows they appreciate all of the stuff you do, not just on the field but off.
"Some guys look to you for leadership to get going. As a captain you can't be down. As players they see you down and it makes them down. I try to be the emotional guy. They see me laughing and joking hopefully that makes them comfortable and relaxed and they do the same thing."