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Parker made the most of his opportunity

Leading up to the NFL Draft, current and former Steelers' players will be sharing their Draft Day Memories, from the time they went to the NFL Scouting Combine, through the moment they were drafted. In this installment, former running back Willie Parker shared his story.

Willie Parker
Free Agent
2004

"I didn't go to the combine. I didn't experience that. I had a pro day at North Carolina, but that was it. We had a top safety named Dexter Reid that got drafted by the Patriots. We also had a good receiver Sam Aiken that went to the Bills. All of the scouts from the 32 teams and the head coaches were there to see them. It was a perfect setting and platform for me because they were there to see those guys and were like who is this kid here running that 4.2. It caught a buzz and then they were like, wait, he can catch the ball.

"The teams were interviewing me, wondering why I wasn't on the field. They soon figured it out, I had a few issues like some other young athletes who hadn't figured things out themselves yet.

"One of the first teams to come up to me was the Steelers and their scouts. Dan Rooney Jr's eyes were lit up. He was like we are going to bring you in. We are going to draft you or bring you in some way. A lot of teams say that just to let you know there is a possibility, but that gave me hope. I knew what type of organization it was. It gave me hope, the first team to give me that feedback. When other teams came in a day or so afterwards, I was like I am focused on the Steelers and what is going on there. That was my experience at my pro day. Teams come up to you, see how you answer certain questions and want to know if you are ready for that next level.

"Having the teams there was so valuable for me. Not getting selected to attend the combine, the pro day was really valuable for me to promote myself. I wanted to go to the combine, knock that off my goal sheet, but I didn't get invited. In the back of my mind, I was thinking I wasn't good enough, so it drove me to do more. The pro day served me well.

"Dan Rooney Jr. stayed in touch with me. It's kind of interesting, my relationship, that I didn't know we had until that pro day. His wife, Allison, is from my hometown and followed me throughout my career. He ended up coming to a game at my high school. She knew what type of player I was. I really think that had something to do with it. It was a perfect story.

"I didn't make any visits before the draft. I was really excited about getting in as a free agent. My first trip to a team was for minicamp when I was signed by the Steelers.

"I watched the draft. I had hopes. You have that feeling in the back of your mind anything can happen. I had this feeling that what if. But I didn't have the film, so what did they have to go by? I was aware of the situation and the circumstances. I wanted to get drafted, but I had in the other side of my mind that isn't going to happen.

"Near the end of the draft I started to get some phone calls. It was a relief. You have hopes and dreams. When you start to get those calls. You have an opportunity to play this game and you have to make the most of it. I had three or four teams call. What put Pittsburgh at the top to be honest was the signing bonus. They offered the most and were the first team to reach out.

"You don't know if you are picking the right team. Sometimes it's all about the relationship and I had a relationship with Dan Rooney Jr., so it was easier going to that organization. At least somebody knew me in that organization.

"I felt like I had an opportunity, After that I had to do my part if I wanted to be on the roster."

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