Offseason Program

The learning continues for rookies

For the past month Steelers' rookies have been getting an introduction into life in the NFL, and while football has been the most prevalent part of it, it hasn't been limited to X's and O's.

They have been learning the ins and outs of what NFL players need to know for survival. And the lessons have been plentiful.

"It's definitely valuable," said Terrell Edmunds. "A lot of people come into the league not knowing everything. Even if someone tells you that roadmap 20 times, until you experience the roadmap some things might change. They are teaching us how to manage our money, how to get involved in the community, how to help anyway we can and be something besides a football player. That is a big thing. You don't want to just be known as a football player. You want to be known as something else.

"It's definitely been helpful for me. I can't speak for everybody else, but it's been helpful for me. 

He isn't alone in that mindset.

"The guys have been schooled up prior to coming here, but we always walk away learning something," said Mason Rudolph. "It's funny how that works. We always walk away glad we were there. The financial side, domestic violence, rules, laws, how to live in Pittsburgh, how to conduct yourself. It's valuable information when you come into a new environment, new city."

The rookies have heard from experts in various fields, giving them insight that can do nothing but help them now and down the road. Among the topics covered have been financial planning and investments, relationships, and understanding what being an NFL player is all about. The team's communications staff, led by Burt Lauten, the director of communications, gave them a rundown on dealing with the media and the proper way to handle social media, and everything in between.

"You definitely learn a lot of stuff about budgeting money with the people they bring in," said Dree Henderson. "You have to budget well, spend your money well. You can't go out there and buy six cars, but instead buy one car and keep it and pay it off. Don't rent a home because when you do you are giving money to someone else. You want to buy a home, but don't do it too fast. You want to make sure everything is straight financially."

It hasn't been just sitting in a classroom, though. The rookie class visited Children's Hospital of UPMC and took part in the Urban Impact Football Camp and Mel Blount Youth Home Initiative Camp, visited Saint Vincent College and learned what kind of impact they can have.

"That is something that I have always wanted to do," said Chukwuma Okorafor. "To see how you can make a kid's day by doing these things is really special."

It culminated with the Rookie Transition Program, three days of instruction that included NFL rule changes, player resources, NFL player benefits, and sportsmanship.

"We have to realize that a lot of our younger players, although they come ready in some areas, don't come with the same experiences," said Terry Cousin, player engagement coordinator. "We want to make sure the programs we give them are relatable to the life they are going to lead in the NFL. I relate what they do to football for them to do well in football, they have to take a lot of reps. It's the same in life."

Steelers President Art Rooney II opened the program, welcoming the rookies and making them aware of the expectations that come with playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"You can't be a successful football player if you're not a successful person," said Rooney. "There are too many distractions that get in the way of being successful if you don't have your life squared away. That is what this is all about. It's building a foundation, learning how to do basic things like taking care of your money. It's great to have some money, but it's also a distraction. It can cause you a lot of problems if you don't manage it the right way. The same thing with the relationships in your life.

"You never know when your number is getting called in this business. You have to be ready when your number is called. That is what this whole process is about, laying that foundation. Keep your mind open, pay attention. There are no shortcuts. There are no substitutes for hard work."

The lessons learned are ones that the players will carry with them forever, and also let them know that the team looks at them not just as players, but as people.

"It's awesome, especially coming from a different culture, different country," said Christian Scotland-Williamson, who is from England and grew up playing rugby. "We did a few development things with my rugby team over there, but it's completely different here. It prepares you for life off the field as well as on field.

"We are building a massive bond, especially as a rookie class. You are in it together, facing the same challenges, so it's good to have other people in the same situation as you are."

The group has formed a bond, one that you can see on the field, in the locker room and in everything they do.

"Coach tells us the rookie class defines a team," said Edmunds. "If the rookie class stays together, we can impact the team and become better. We are truly friends. It's a true bond and that is something we want to keep."