Making the most of an opportunity

The Steelers three day rookie minicamp had just come to an end and everyone who took part, from Coach Mike Tomlin to ball boys, gathered together on the practice field for a group photo.

For some, in for the camp for a tryout, it will serve as a great memory of an opportunity where they know they gave it their all.

For the team's draft picks and rookie free agents signed after the draft, it was another step in the journey. They would be back to work on Monday morning. But for those there for the tryout, after the photo it was back home to work for that next opportunity in the NFL, which can come without notice.

Running back Cameron Stingily and defensive lineman Mike Thornton were among those grabbing their bags, getting ready to head to the airport after their weekend tryout. The few things they brought with them were packed and ready to go, but the Steelers had other plans for them. They were ready to sign both to the team.  

"I had all of my stuff packed up from the hotel," said Thornton. "I was getting ready to get on the shuttle and one of the personnel guys came and got me and said I needed to go sign some papers. I still didn't know what was going on. I said oaky, I thought I had to sign release forms. I went upstairs and everyone was congratulating me on being signed.

"I was definitely stunned. I had in my head I was about to go home to my family and it didn't happen that way. They said we will see you tomorrow morning at seven o'clock. I was like I don't have enough clothes. I only had a weekend's worth of clothes. They told me not to worry. That was that. It was overwhelming but a great blessing."

Stingily was in the same boat. Tomlin had told him before the final practice that he liked his running style, but Stingily never imagined at that point that it would turn into him being signed by the team.

"I still had a practice left, so I tried not to think too much of it," said Stingily. "After practice he called all of the tryout guys up, and someone grabbed me and said you have to come sign your contract. I was like 'Oh yeah.'

"I have a few pair of socks and underwear with me, but that is it. They said pack light. I packed pretty light and it backfired on me. But it's fine. It's a good feeling, but there is so much more to be done. Step one is done. I came here wanting to get a contract. Step one is done but I have many more goals to accomplish."


Stingily, who played at Northern Illinois, admitted that there were a lot of nerves coming in for the tryout, not knowing what to expect and having no idea how things would play out. He had put up good numbers in college, rushing for 2,095 yards on 397 carries with 23 touchdowns, but this was a whole new ball game.

"I was very nervous," said Stingily. "I didn't know what to expect. I was intimidated at first. The first day, the first practice, was nerve racking. Coach (Tomlin) was walking around. You don't really know anyone, don't know their personalities yet.

"After that I got my feet wet and there was no pressure. The second practice, I just wanted to have fun. The next day is not promised so I just wanted to go out and have fun and work as hard and not leave any doubt."

He isn't quite certain what it was that caught the attention of the coaches, other than doing what he loves to do and doing it full throttle.

"I know I tried to give it my all every single play and pay attention to the details," said Stingily. "I wanted to make sure the coaches didn't have to tell me something more than once. I focused on that. Once I started to relax I thought I played a little bit faster, started to have more fun.

"It calmed my nerves a little bit knowing I wasn't the only one going through it. It calmed my nerves a lot actually."


He wasn't the only one going through it by far. Thornton, who recorded 30 tackles, 12 of them solo stops, in 2014 at the University of Georgia, also didn't know what to expect and had the same nerves as everyone else going in.

"The whole last week I was sitting at the house thinking I don't know what is going to happen when I get to Pittsburgh, but I hope good things happen," said Thornton. "When they finally told me they were going to sign me I was overwhelmed, shocked. It took three hours for it to finally hit me.

"It was very eye-opening. I didn't think I was going to get the shot that I got. I worked my butt off this week and I guess something showed and it just clicked."  

One of the first things Thornton did after learning the news was call home, and he delivered the perfect Mother's Day gift to his mom.

Steelers' rookies take the field for Rookie Minicamp.

"I told her I was planning on coming to see her later that night, but can't because they signed me," said Thornton. "She was screaming and crying in the phone."

After the excitement, it was back to work first thing Monday morning, trying to prove himself along with the rest of the rookies as they take part in the team's Phase 2 of offseason workouts.

"It was still kind of surreal," said Thornton. "I am soaking it all in. I told myself when I left Atlanta I wouldn't put any pressure on myself. I would just play hard and pick up on things as fast as I could.

"This is a very crucial time, especially for all of the rookies. They want to see how fast you can learn, how fast you can play. They want to see if your physical ability and mental ability is on the same level. They don't want a guy off balance with either. They want a guy who can come out and produce."  

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