When Max Starks returned to the Steelers locker room on Wednesday after being re-signed by the team, it was like he had never been gone.
The familiar No. 78 practice jersey hung in his locker, the helmet next to it, and the Starks name plate was back in place, right where it should be.
"That was a stipulation before I came back – getting my number," joked Starks, who took the number back from rookie Trevis Turner. "I wasn't going to be Max Starks #71 or #72 or something. That wouldn't feel right."
All kidding aside Starks couldn't have been happier to be putting that jersey on. He was back where he wanted to be, back on the team, back at the place he has called home for the last seven seasons.
"It was good to see everybody and everybody was happy to see me," said Starks. "It was like old times. There are a lot of old faces and some new faces. It's comfortable and it's home. I am happy to be back."
Starks, a free agent who finished last season on injured reserve with a neck injury, was not re-signed when the lockout ended and spent training camp and the first quarter of the season watching football on television instead of playing the game he loves.
"It's always tough when at the beginning of a season since high school I have been a part of it," said Starks. "It's never easy when you don't get to play football, especially when it's football season. Your body is ready for it, but you are putting it on reserve. It's one of the adversities of life – you can let it define you or rise above your circumstances. I have always had an optimistic point of view. I wasn't bitter or sad. Instead I got ready for when my opportunity does come.
"I trained like I would if I was getting ready for camp. That is all I have done is train waiting for an opportunity. I knew if an opportunity arose I had to be game ready. I had to do a lot of mock simulations. We will see if it paid off."
He had been working out on his own with a trainer and while there were questions about his weight after team personnel saw him at Ben Roethlisberger's July wedding, he said he is at the same weight as last season.
"I am about the same, it's just different composition," said Starks. "It's like the same glob of clay but it's how you mold it. I feel the same, same weight."
Starks' role has yet to be completely defined, but with a rash of injuries and inexperience on the offensive line he has the potential to bring a lot to the group.
"Whether it's on the sidelines as a swing guy or in a starting role, my job is to plug in and be ready for whatever they need me to do," said Starks, who indicated he is healthy now. "The way Coach (Mike) Tomlin put it, it was strictly because he needed leadership and experience to fill in where needed. We will see after we get rolling in practice. I think they want to get a feel for that before they make any decisions."
One player happy to see Starks back was Roethlisberger, who has the locker next to him and knows that Starks can provide that leadership.
"It's good to have Max back," said Roethlisberger. "Max is a friend. It took a little while but we got him back and I'm happy for him.
"It's just his attitude, he brings a fun, healthy attitude, upbeat, he seems to always be smiling and in a good mood. I think he can help Marcus (Gilbert) and some of the other guys, if he's playing or if he's not, just his knowledge of the game."