The Steelers eighth Annual Steelers Men's Fantasy Camp presented by Rolling Rock was held at St. Vincent College and including 300 men from 35 states, as well as Mexico and Canada.
Former Steelers John Banaszak, Bubby Brister, Tunch Ilkin, Levon Kirkland, Jon Kolb, Yancey Thigpen, Mike Wagner and Craig Wolfley along with kicker Jeff Reed served as coaches for the group, instructing them on the finer points of playing various football positions.
Other highlights included a tour of Heinz Field, a team meeting with defensive assistant and former linebacker Jerry Olsavsky and a special guest speaker Hall of Fame wide receiver John Stallworth.
This year Rahul Kapur, a rookie camper from New York City, provided a diary of the weekend.
Fantasy Camp Diary
On my 40th birthday my wife Lizzie surprised me with a trip to Steelers Men's Fantasy Camp this summer. Finally, at age 40, I was going to live my dream - a chance to be a Pittsburgh Steelers "player" (at least for a fantasy weekend).
I arrived in Pittsburgh Thursday with my friend Brett, whom it took exactly five seconds to convince to come with me. After a good meal with friends in Pittsburgh, it was time for an early and good night's sleep. Friday was going to be a big day.
On Friday morning we made the short drive to the North Side and arrived for a tour of Heinz Field. We first went to the locker room where we took pictures sitting in Hines Ward's locker. Then we went through the tunnel (patting the "Men of Steel" sign on the way) and entered the field. After just standing in awe for a while, we went up to the luxury suites and press box. The tour was great.
Camp opened at five, so we headed out on the drive to Latrobe. When we checked into St. Benedict Hall, we were greeted with our first great surprise of the weekend. In addition to great Steelers items, we received a Steelers jersey with our chosen number and name on it (instead of the practice jerseys given in previous years). Even the fantasy camp veterans were thrilled. Then it was time for the evening welcome reception. All of the former players who were there to coach at the camp signed autographs, took pictures, and mingled with all of the campers. Tunch Ilkin and Craig Wolfley led the charge as the hosts for the weekend. The players genuinely seemed to be enjoying the time as much as we were, swapping stories with each other as they talked to us.
At the formal welcome speech, the Fantasy Camp Hall of Famers (those who had attended all eight of them) were honored. Ilkin and Wolfley also saluted the servicemen in the audience, with a special recognition to Brad Shee, who retired that week after 35 years in the Navy and came straight to Latrobe for Fantasy Camp. Jeff Reed then took the stage, had the crowd howling with some great stories about the life of a kicker in the NFL.
Saturday morning came and it was time for an early wakeup. After putting on my jersey, it was down to the practice field to begin the true training camp experience. Steelers strength and conditioning assistant Marcel Pastoor led us through stretching and then we broke into groups. My group's first stop was offensive and defensive line with former Steelers Jon Kolb and John Banaszak. Kolb used me to demonstrate wheelbarrows, holding my ankles in the air while I lunged myself with my arms 10 yards. After that it was off to the defensive line drills. As we were practicing getting off the line quickly at the snap I felt my left calf grab. I got some ice from the training staff and got back in time for linebacker drills conducted by former Steelers linebacker Levon Kirkland. The linebacker drills were a highlight as we got to repeatedly hit a tackling dummy.
Drills continued when we moved onto defensive back practice with former Steelers safety Mike Wagner, who taught us the intricacies of Cover 1 and 2. Wagner thought we were all getting better at coverage as the session went on, but I really think it was more that as receivers we were getting slower. With the sound of the horn, the morning session was over, and it was on to lunch, a coaching meeting, and then offensive practice in the afternoon.
At lunch, Wolfley decided in true training camp spirit to make some of the rookies stand up and sing. The first rookie sang the Star Spangled Banner and we all stood and joined in. The second rookie called on was me and I admit I froze. The only song I could think of was "Here We Go." And I couldn't think of any words besides those (and Pittsburgh's going to the Super Bowl). I was booed off the stage (good naturedly of course) and another rookie was cheered when he sang "Oh, Canada."
After lunch, we had film session with Jerry Olsavsky, a former Steelers linebacker and currently a defensive assistant with the team. We watched film from the prior week's OTAs, as well as last year's cut-ups. The best part though was hearing Olsavsky's stories from his playing days and his perspective on many of the exciting young prospects new to the team this year.
We started the afternoon practice session with quarterback practice. Former quarterback Bubby Brister handled the drills and was awesome. In addition to being a great guy, he was an excellent coach. He spent specific time with everyone, giving advice and pointers.
On we moved to special teams where we kicked field goals and chatted with Reed, who laughed as some of the interesting kicks he saw. Some guys though could really kick, and the long field goal of the day was 40-yards. We finished the session with wide receiver practice with Yancey Thigpen. Thigpen was a great coach, forcing us to be exact with our footwork on cuts, and running us a lot. Every dropped pass earned us 10 push-ups. Before the session ended the rains came and the horns sounded and we finished slightly early.
After a great prime rib dinner, we headed to the Carey Center for the Saturday evening program. All of the players told great stories that had us in stitches. Kirkland was a riot, talking about his process of taking control of a huddle that had Greg Lloyd in it. Hall of Famer and now Steelers investor John Stallworth took the stage, told stories of his playing days, and took questions from all of us about all things Steelers football and being successful in business. Brett won a raffle for one of the autographed footballs signed by Stallworth. The night was an absolute blast, and one a die-hard Steelers fan will cherish forever.
On Sunday, we went back down to the field for the skills competition which included passing, punting, and special teams. I wasn't very good, although I almost downed a punt inside the one, but it was a touchback. Then camp ended with lunch and an awards ceremony and prizes to the competition winners.
With that, our Steelers weekend was over, but the memories will last forever. What impressed me was we all felt like the former Steelers greats were just one of the guys. You couldn't ask for a better bunch of guys to come back and treat us to such a great experience. I learned a ton and had such a great time. I will be back next year!