LATROBE, Pa. – Shamarko Thomas took his first steps in the NFL last season.
Following an injury-altered rookie campaign, Thomas took what he believes will be his first steps toward achieving greatness under the watchful eye of fellow Steelers safety Troy Polamalu.
"I texted him. I said 'I want to be great.'" Thomas revealed. "And he explained what it takes to be great. He said, 'You have to show me by your actions first, by being mature in the way you carry yourself off the field,' and all that stuff.
Take a look at photos of the Pittsburgh Steeler's sixth day of Training Camp.
"One day we just got in a conversation to come out there and train with him."
Thomas wound up spending a week in San Diego with Polamalu after the Steelers wrapped up their three-day mandatory minicamp, in advance of the team reporting to Saint Vincent College.
"It felt like a month because he trained so hard," Thomas said.
The pairing was unprecedented and, from Thomas' perspective, unforgettable.
"I was the first person to ever work out with him," Thomas said. "It was an amazing experience just to learn from that type of guy. Not just working out but his mentality, the way he goes about his days and how he takes care of his family.
"It motivates me. For a guy like him who's going to be a Hall-of-Famer to take me out there and show me the ropes, it was just an amazing experience."
Thomas likened Polamalu's workouts to "a karate movie. It's like some ninja stuff but it works for him," Thomas continued. "It works for me, too."
The objective is for the program Polamalu embraces to work on a number of levels.
"To me training is not only a football discipline," Polamalu said. "It's a very spiritual exercise for me. It's about pushing your boundaries not only as a football player but a person. My goal in training and learning to train, it's not necessarily to maximize yourself as an athlete only, but as a human being, spiritually, physically, emotionally.
"I've kind of thrown it out there to some guys before. You just don't want to be forceful, and Shamarko really wanted to come out. And, of course, I really do appreciate my family, especially in the offseason, and Shamarko is part of that family."
Thomas appeared in 14 games last season around a left ankle injury suffered on Nov. 10 against Buffalo. He showed up for his second training camp maintaining he was a different player and a different person, thanks to his Polamalu experience.
"I changed a lot from my first year to my second year and that's from Troy staying in my ear every day," Thomas said. "I matured a lot.
"Last year it was a fast game, a lot of things going through your head not only on the field but off the field. This year everything's slowed down. I'm stable right now and I'm relaxed and I'm calm and I'm ready to play."