'Who says you can't go home?
There's only one place they call me one of their own'
LATROBE, Pa. - All it takes is one look at the practice field at Saint Vincent College to know how those words from the Bon Jovi song ring true for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Carnell Lake, Jerry Olsavsky and Joey Porter, three Steelers' alumni who are now on the coaching staff. Mark Bruener is one of the team's scouts, while Chidi Iwouma is the team's BLESTO scout.
They all came home. And during training camp, and others have joined them.
Ike Taylor, Kendall Simmons and Charlie Batch are interned with the scouting department, while Alan Faneca and Hines Ward are both interning with the coaching staff.
"It's an awesome thing we have going on with some of our alumni players," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "I am fortunate enough to have been here long enough that I have coached some of those guys. We embrace the tradition that is Steelers football. It's great to see oral history be shared from older to younger and the teachings. It's one of the interesting things about having been here and it's fun to watch it develop."
Taylor has been back to training camp several times since his playing days ended, but those have always been due to his role on NFL Network, reporting on the team. This year, things are different.
Taylor and General Manager Kevin Colbert had a strong bond while he still played for the team, and it translated into Colbert inviting Taylor to camp when the two ran into each other at the NFL Scouting Combine this year.
"I took him up on it," said Taylor. "This is something I like to do. I was interested in scouting when I was playing. The NFL Network lets me talk about cornerbacks, safeties and receivers. I have to watch tape and study. But if you look at it, players, we are scouts. I have to find out what that receiver wanted to do to me when we are playing.
"With Kevin Colbert and the scouting crew, the detail part of it, that is what I am learning. We have been around it our whole life. When you were on the basketball court you knew who to pick. You know talent. We had an eye for it. Kevin gave me this opportunity and it's opening my eyes.
"You have to know all 32 teams. You have to know what is happening on the waiver wire, character issues, medical issues, can this guy help this team out. It's a whole background check. Kevin and the scouting department miss on a pick, they lost a year. They take that to heart. Kevin is competitive. You have to get that in depth when talking about scouting. He has his own grading system. Those guys in the dungeon put in countless hours trying to find guys. You might have 1500 guys and you need to find 10 guys." Taylor has taken learning the world of scouting as a challenge, letting his competitive side come out even when watching film.
"I am watching tape because he gave me assignments to scout," said Taylor. "I had to have presentation. I told Kevin I am going to be the best scout he has because I am competing. That is my competitive nature. I want to be the best. That nature is forever. Kevin Colbert has given me this opportunity and I am very grateful.
"There is a reason why you have been to three Super Bowls in seven years. It starts with Kevin Colbert and his staff. He doesn't get enough credit."
For the last few years Simmons tried to come to camp and get involved, but speaking engagements he is involved with to promote and educate on diabetes prohibited from doing so. This year, thanks to the encouragement of his wife Celeste, he came to camp and is exploring something he would like to do in the future. "I missed the game," said Simmons, the team's No. 1 draft pick in 2002 who played with the Steelers until 2008. "My wife has been pushing me to go ahead and do this. She gets tired of watching football with me. A lot of times during the game I will pause the game and analyze it. She said it's not fun watching the game with you. I feel like this is the direction the Lord is leading me right now. I am taking this as far as it can. If I get started in something, I am going to dive head first. I plan on this leading to something. I miss it. Watching film and looking at guys pushed me. I like the challenge."
It's been a learning process for Simmons, making him quickly realize there is a lot he still has to learn about the game he loves so much.
"I didn't realize how dumb I was when it came to football," Simmons joked. "You think when you get to the professional level you know a lot, but when you get on this side of scouting and how much you need to know about the players in college. I don't know a third of what I thought I knew. They look at players in a different light than we do. I had a chance to experience it on the field, so it brings another aspect on top of learning what they do"
Simmons said he appreciates that the team let him come back, and it's another example of the family atmosphere the team has, something he knows firsthand isn't everywhere.
"They are very welcoming," said Simmons. "You leave here with a sense of family. It's very different. If you can stay here your whole career, great. You take it for granted how good you have it, just the way they run things. You go somewhere else and it's not the same. I talked to guys who went other places and if they could go back, they would."
The good news for Simmons, Taylor and others is you can go home.