Maurkice Pouncey loves football. He has a passion for it. As he will tell, it's what he is all about.
"It's my life, it's that simple," said Pouncey. "It's everything."
Last year though, something that meant so much to the Steelers' center, was taken away from him for the second time in his career. Pouncey suffered a season-ending leg injury in the Steelers' first preseason game in 2015, missing the entire year.
Pouncey was placed on the team's injured reserve/designated to return list, but never made his way back on to the field last year. He underwent multiple surgeries, dealt with the torture of not playing with your teammates, but never lost his fight, his passion for the game, or his will to get back on the field.
And when the Steelers reported to OTAs last May, Pouncey was right there with them on the field.
It's his ability to fight back, to return to the field this season and be the same player he was before, that had his teammates vote him this year's winner of the Ed Block Courage Award, presented annually to a Steelers player who has fought back from an injury or tough circumstances to return to the field. Pouncey will receive the award on Nov. 15 at the 24th Annual Arthur J. Rooney Sr. Courage House Luncheon at Heinz Field, benefiting Holy Family Institute.
"Anything you win from your teammates, and they put that type of honor on you, is amazing," said Pouncey. "You don't want to be injured at all. To fight back from the stuff I have is just a blessing. I always smile every single day. I tell everybody smile because you never know with football this could be your last day, especially with everything I have been through. It's a blessing and an honor to win this."
Pouncey is right, he is always smiling. But even he admitted, there were times when that smile didn't come easy.
"It's tough, for sure," said Pouncey. "At the end of the day I am surrounded by a good group of guys. My inner circle is really, really tight. They love me to death and keep me smiling. I am blessed. There are a lot of people who want this opportunity who aren't playing football any more. Every day I get to come to work is an honor and a blessing."
Last year was the second time Pouncey missed the majority of a season. In 2013 he was injured early on in the season-opener, and was out for the year. Having it happen once was tough, twice even worse.
"It's terrible," admitted Pouncey. "To sit there and watch other guys, the guys you go out there and have blood, sweat and tears with every day go out there and do their job and you want to be out there with them. You have to keep them motivated, keep the guys around and keep encouraging them."
And for Pouncey, he couldn't have gotten through last season if those guys didn't do the same for him.
"They kept me together," said Pouncey. "They came over every Thursday, ate dinner with me, watched film with me and did all of the little things we do on Thursday. It was awesome to have those guys there with me. They brought me through that tough time. They got me through it, honestly.
"My teammates, calls from my brother, that all kept me motivated. Knowing that I love this game and I wanted to do everything I could to get back motivated me.
"I got the opportunity to do this again and I am just running with it."
Purchase Tickets: http://www.hfi-pgh.org/couragehouse/
Former Holy Family Institute resident, Eric Usselman, will receive the Courage House Award, for demonstrating perseverance in overcoming challenges. Usselman came to Holy Family Institute at age 12 from a foster home, and lived on campus until he graduated high school. He has overcome many challenges caused by the disadvantages of his early years. Usselman was placed in a foster care situation that could not address his needs, and had poor reading, writing, and math skills. Despite these and other challenges, he has achieved great success in his life. Usselman sought special tutoring to overcome his literacy disabilities, and today is a CDL Driver for Republic Services. Usselman is married with children.