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New WR Wilson was meant to be a Steeler

A year ago, the Steelers heard all about a linebacker from St. Louis High School in Honolulu that they eventually selected in the third round of the 2023 NFL Draft.

In that case, it was one brother vouching for another, as offensive lineman Nate Herbig said he came into the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex telling whoever would listen that linebacker Nick Herbig was a "stud."

This year, it was Nick Herbig's opportunity to heap praise on another St. Louis product, as let the coaching staff know all about wide receiver Roman Wilson.

"He was talking to me before the draft back to when I met with the Steelers at the Senior Bowl," Wilson said. "They just kept talking about how Nick kept talking about me."

The St. Louis Crusaders roots run deep. So deep, in fact, a Wisconsin product such as Herbig will vouch for a Michigan Wolverine such as Wilson.

Like Herbig, who is constantly learning at the heels of Steelers outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, Wilson is a student of the game.

The speedy Wilson has refined his skillset since leaving St. Louis High School, a powerhouse in Hawaii, using whatever tools are available.

"I first learned from Josh Gattis when he was my offensive coordinator at University of Michigan," Wilson said of the former NFL wide receiver and current offensive coordinator at Maryland. "He taught me a lot about route running. And then when he left he kind of just got down to me watching a lot of film watching a lot of NFL guys watching concepts and watching how guys run routes against certain defenses. It's different than what you're used to."

But Wilson has refined it to the point where he'll look at a defensive back frame by frame and find the weakness in his coverage. And then he'll take advantage of that weakness.

"You never really run in lines on papers, you're running routes, it's different. So you try to put your spin on certain plays and figure out what works for you and always trying something new because you never know when you're going to need to bring that tool out of your bag," Wilson said. "For me, it was just going to practice doing one on ones going home watching the film taking notes on it. I remember I had this iPad and my notes, and I used to literally go frame by frame taking screenshots of routes and seeing how DBs feel when I take different steps."

There are students of the game, and then there are those who take things to the next level.

Wilson is a next-level type of student.

It was a lot of study for a team that didn't throw the ball a lot.

Michigan was a run-first offense. Wilson caught 25 passes in each of his sophomore and junior seasons. He led the Wolverines with 48 receptions for 789 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2023 on their way to a national championship.

• Dale Lolley is co-host of "SNR Drive" on Steelers Nation Radio. Subscribe to the podcast here: Apple Podcast | iHeart Podcast

Take a look at photos of Pittsburgh Steelers third-round pick, WR Roman Wilson

Because the opportunities were so limited, Wilson developed a mentality that any time the ball was in the air, it was going to be his.

"If I'm getting the ball, I'm all I'm all in, I'm sure as every receiver is but you know, if it's up it's mine," Wilson said.

A nuanced route runner with a hunger to win 50-50 battles down the field was exactly what the Steelers were looking for in the draft.

They also saw a wide receiver who, despite being 5-foot-10 and 186 pounds, was willing to block and do the little things to help a team have success.

"At Michigan you saw, call it a pro-style (offense) and they did a lot of things that would translate to the pro game," said Steelers first-year offensive coordinator Arthur Smith. "What I saw was a great teammate. You know, everybody wants the ball and that's great. You want guys that want the ball. I have a problem with guys that don't want to work. So, the guys are good teammates and do that, you can get more possessions and extend drives. I think the tape shows a lot about your personality.

"People can say what they want, but you look at their actions and certainly Roman's pops off to the tape backs up when you meet them in person. We're just really excited to get him in our program."

Almost as excited as Wilson will be to join his former St. Louis teammate in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers have had a history of success with former St. Louis players, from Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala to Tyson Alualu, whose uncle, Tupu Alualu, now is head coach at the school, and now the Herbig brothers.

Wilson can add to that legacy.

"Nick Herbig we were in the same grade, same age, we played ball together. Nick, I know him very well," Wilson said. "When I went to high school with him, we kind of grew up together a little bit. So, that's my guy. … I never thought I would be on the same team as him in the NFL. But as I got closer to the draft day, there were more and more rumblings about it. I could kind of see it happening before it started."