By Teresa Varley
The Steelers are looking for someone to take over the third receiver role that Nate Washington held down the last few years, and Martin Nance is hoping that they don't have to look too far.
Washington signed with the Tennessee Titans as an unrestricted free agent, leaving an opening on the receiving corps. Nance, who spent 2008 on the team's practice squad, is looking forward to battling for the job.
"I think that the nature of this business is about opportunity," said Nance. "I see it as an opportunity for me. I am looking forward to showing them I am capable of creating my own role."
Nance got off to a late start with the team last year, joining the practice squad on Sept. 9. There was a lot of catch-up work to do to learn the offense, even if he wasn't going to get a chance on Sunday afternoons. He had one advantage, though, as the season wore on. Hines Ward is often times held out of practice on Wednesdays, allowing him an extra day to heal. Nance was a beneficiary of that, getting extra snaps each week.
"It helped a lot, especially coming in at the time I did," said Nance "I didn't have a chance to go through all of the installations and details the other guys did during the offseason. It was a great chance for me to get on the field and jump in and learn on the go."
This offseason is a key one for Nance, who is feeling "miles ahead of where I was when I got here," with the offense. He got an early jump on the offseason workouts, spending time at the indoor facility running routes and catching passes a week or two ahead of his teammates.
"It's a big opportunity that lies ahead of me," said Nance. "I wanted to do what I can to prepare myself and put my best foot forward. I still haven't shown them my best football. When I get a chance to play in some more competitive situations and really put my complete football package on the field and show what I can do after the catch and competing for a lot of the balls, I feel confident I will be able to make a good impression."
That lack of competitive football has been tough for Nance, who played at Miami of Ohio at the same time as Ben Roethlisberger and was one of his go-to guys there. He is looking forward to mini-camp and training camp, when he can actually get out there in a competitive situation and really show his talents.
"Naturally as a competitor you want to be able to show all that you can do and really play football outside of a practice setting," said Nance. "It's difficult but at the same time I started to build my resume and gain confidence so I am excited about what is to come. I am eager to get back on the field and establish myself and role on this team. For me it's an opportunity and I thrive in those types of situations."
Another opportunity that Nance is taking advantage of this offseason is the NFL's Business Management and Entrepreneurial Program. Nance is attending sessions at the Harvard Business School, where a workshop was held in February and another will be held in April.
"I think it's a great opportunity," said Nance. "Any time you get a chance to study at Harvard it's something you want to undertake. I was a business major in college. It helps to keep me sharp and fine tune the things I was learning in school."
Before returning in April Nance has to work on a business project, developing his own ideas and presenting it to his professor and others in the workshop.
"It will give us a chance to look at real life aspects of business," said Nance.
Not only does he focus on football and his future in business, he also knows the importance of giving back to the community. On his first day in Pittsburgh Nance visited patients at Children's Hospital. It was no surprise he jumped in so quickly with the background of giving back that he brought with him.
Nance works with several churches in his hometown of St. Louis doing mission work and helping with a homeless shelter. He gives of his time and also donates clothing and helps with fundraising. He visits the shelter, speaking to those there and helping them get back on their feet.
"It's a message of encouragement and helping those people to understand that even though they are dealing with a setback or are struggling with a situation, there is hope," said Nance of what he talks to those at the shelter about. "It's a faith-based program centered around their relationship with Christ. We have seen it change so many lives so it is exciting."
While he hasn't had the opportunity to go on any missions as of late because of football and school, he did make a journey to Africa with his father when he was a teenager. They spent time in South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The mission included visiting a school where they provided encouragement and shared ideas and resources as well as seeing the varied conditions people in those areas live and trying to help them out with donations.
"It was a life-changing experience," said Nance. "I am looking forward to the opportunity to go back. It's something I would recommend for anyone to do if they have a chance to go to a country that is so different from ours and see a different part of the world and how different people live.
"It added so much perspective. I realized the life we have here we are so fortunate to have it. Some of the small things we take for granted, electricity, running water, being able to go to a grocery store. Being able to see how differently people live their day to day lives added a perspective that changed my life."