On the Sidelines with Justin Hartwig
Steelers.com will bring you a regular feature throughout the season titled On the Sidelines where Teresa Varley will sit down with players and help you get to know them away from the game.
Center Justin Hartwig is in his first season with the Steelers after signing with the team as an unrestricted free agent from Carolina this offseason. Hartwig was named the team's starting center before the end of the preseason, beating out last year's starter Sean Mahan.
Hartwig is quickly adjusting to Pittsburgh, with a few driving exceptions, and really appreciates the fan support in the city. He recently spoke at an event the team held for their female fans and was amazed by the knowledge and enthusiasm the ladies had.
"These women were all excited. It was a great welcoming experience for me," said Hartwig. "I was impressed. You can tell they grew up watching football. They came out with great questions, were enthusiastic and screamed a lot, so it was fun."
Hartwig talks about his start in sports and football and different topics in this installment of On the Sidelines.
When did you start to play organized sports?
I am sure it was as early as my parents could get me involved in anything. It was around second grade. I started off playing YMCA basketball. I got into flag football when I was in fourth grade and played that until I was in seventh grade. Then I started playing tackle football.
Did you play ball in the backyard when you were younger?
Even through high school my friends and I after school, if I wasn't working out or involved in some kind of activity, we were always out in the street playing football. You would have to move the whole game over when cars came down the street. I was always playing football or basketball with my buddies. I always tried to stay active as a kid. Sports were something I really enjoyed doing.
What team did you follow as a kid?
I grew up in Iowa and Minnesota and Iowa didn't have any professional sports teams so I followed all of the Minnesota sports team. I was a huge Vikings fan. I liked watching Keith Millard and Chris Doleman, the guys on the defensive line. I didn't really care too much about offensive linemen at that point because they aren't the most exciting guys to watch. They are the guys you want to rip on when they mess up and that is how most people view us until this day. I liked watching the defensive linemen because the Vikings had a fearsome defense back in the day.
*What kind of advice would you give to kids who dream about playing in the NFL? *The younger kids I would tell to have fun. That is what it is all about. The older you get the more it becomes a business, even in college at this point. When you are younger just try to have fun and enjoy your teammates, putting the pads on and running around. That's what this is, a big game.
When did playing in the NFL start to become a reality for you?
I guess my junior year of college. I thought I started playing at a pretty high level. My coaches told me they thought I had a chance to play in the NFL or was potentially good enough if I kept getting better. It's another one of the steps you take. In college I started off at third string, then was moved to second string and then first string. Once you get to first string you start thinking maybe I can be an All-Big 12 guy. Then the next thing you start thinking is maybe the next step is the NFL. Once you get to the NFL you go from being a back-up to a starter. You go from being a starter to what is the next step, I don't know. It's a progression. You always have to set goals for yourself. I am looking forward to what the next step is.
How have you adjusted to Pittsburgh so far?
I've learned my way around but I have realized there is construction everywhere and one ways everywhere and if you want to do a U-turn you are out of luck. I will be driving and I can see where I need to get to, but I have no idea how to get there. That's been kind of a hurdle. But I am getting adjusted. I really like the city. The people are really friendly. Pittsburgh is a good sized city but I do feel you can get around fairly easily. It's not too big. I enjoy it. There are good people here.
* Anything unique about Pittsburgh you like? *I live in the South Side and I like it because there are a real diverse group of people. All walks of life are creeping around down there. I appreciate diversity. That's one thing I really like.
What do you think of the fans?
It's kind of overwhelming. They are an animal like none I have never seen. They give so much support. They are so fanatical about the team. I don't care who you are or what you are interested in, everyone who lives in Pittsburgh is a diehard Steelers fan. You get the feeling that however the Steelers do, that is the mood of the city that week. Not only do we perform out butts off for the guys in the locker room and the coaching staff, we do it for the city too. It's definitely an extra incentive for us.
You are working on a documentary right now about your life and football. Can you give some insight into it?
I have a couple of friends that came to me with the idea of doing a documentary about me, following the life of an NFL player on and off the field. The idea is to give the perspective of an NFL player outside of what you see on the field every day. I agreed to do it. It's not like a reality TV show where I have a camera crew following me around all of the time. I have a few guys I am working with that pick opportune times to come in town the week of a game or in the offseason when I am traveling or just hanging out. We will pick different times and they will come film me. I talk a lot about football and the daily things I go through being an NFL player. It's been a great experience. It's been a lot of fun. We think of ideas of stuff we can get on film. I am involved somewhat in the process of determining what footage gets shown. We are not sure what is going to unfold with it – if we will make the documentary ourselves, if we will have someone else do it or we may not release anything. It will be a great video diary of this period in my life, the last year and a half. They got footage of me in Carolina, when I signed with the Steelers, all of that. It's part of the business having to move to another team, learning a new system. I think it will be a pretty interesting story when it comes out.