Toussaint: 'It's still hard to this day'

It's been a little over two months and there are still times when the thoughts enter Fitzgerald Toussaint's mind.

"I think about where we might have been," said Toussaint. "It's crazy. It was hard. It's still hard to this day. I think about it."

The Steelers were holding on to a 13-12 lead over the Denver Broncos in the fourth quarter of the AFC Divisional playoff game and the offense was moving the ball. On second-and-four, Toussaint went around left end and was hit by cornerback Bradley Roby, the ball popped free and DeMarcus Ware recovered. The Broncos got the ball back, took a 20-13 lead and never looked back.

"It was tough to get over," said Toussaint. "Fumbling is not what I do. I never had a problem with that. For that to happen, to a team like this that worked so hard, that's what I was disappointed about. It was never personal. It was never about me, or anything, it was about the team. I let the team down. I didn't care about anything else. I knew how hard Coach (Mike) Tomlin worked for this.

"I am a new guy. I am new to all of this. I am trying to make a mark here and I got in the way a little bit with that situation. I feel like I owed them something. I have something to prove. They might not feel like that, but I feel like that. Any work I put in is going to be towards fixing that situation and not letting it happen again."

Toussaint said the best thing for him was the reaction from his teammates, who showed him support when he was down.

"It was beautiful to hear from everyone," said Toussaint. "Ben (Roethlisberger) talked to me multiple times after the game. That made me feel good; that was a breath of fresh air. He made me feel like I put in some good, quality work and that helped with the situation. Overall the love was tremendous.

"I could count on my fingers how many times someone talked negative, but it's out of this world how much love I got."

Where most of the support for Toussaint came from, the love, the strength and inspiration was from his family. Mainly his mother, Elaine Edwards, who he gets his fight from.

"She has been a waitress for 29 years and raised five kids off of tips," said Toussaint. "That was hard on her. She has been through so many things. The way she fought through adversity made me feel that toughness. I really take pride in that. Most guys get their toughness from different areas, or some athletic source. I get mine from home."

Toussaint sat quiet for a second, and you could tell there was more on his mind. More on why she inspired him so much. And then he opened up, about a car accident several years ago that almost took Edwards life. About the night a car hit her from behind, flipped over her car and almost exploded.

"She almost died in a car accident," he quietly shared. "They weren't sure what happened, if the other driver was tired or drunk, I still don't know. She almost died. I was at school and she didn't tell me for a couple of days because she didn't want me to mess up my mental state. I found out and the three to four hour drive from Michigan was the fastest drive ever. When I got there it was sad to see my mother in that position. It hit home for me.

"Doctors don't know how she wasn't paralyzed from that situation. Just the way she recovered from that was drastic. It was crazy, it's unbelievable. It's like it never happened. She fought. She still tried to go to work. Even to this day, I give her a little something to help, but she still wants to go to work and do things on her own. I look at that as motivation for sure."

And there is more.

"She was diagnosed with lupus as well and she still fought," said Toussaint. "Once you see her, you would never be able to tell she has been through so much because she is so tough."

Toussaint's road to the NFL was not an easy one. He wasn't drafted, wasn't even signed as an undrafted free agent in the days following the 2014 NFL Draft. Instead he was offered a tryout with the Baltimore Ravens, and shortly thereafter got a call back to come in because they needed some depth at running back. He was released by the Ravens before the start of the regular season, signed to the practice squad, added to the active roster, released, signed back to the practice squad, added to the active roster again, released again, and back to the practice squad. All in less than a month. He finished that season on the active roster, but was eventually let go before the start of the 2015 season.

It would be enough to make anyone want to just pack it in, the ups and downs and the emotional rollercoaster just too overwhelming. But that isn't what Toussaint is made of. That wasn't the fight his mother put inside of him.

Toussaint was signed to the Steelers practice squad just two days after the Ravens released him for the final time, and added to the active roster on Nov. 27. For him, this season has been the opportunity he was waiting for.

"I am a very patient guy," he said. "I work hard until my opportunity comes. That is why when an opportunity does approach, I am confident because I put in the work that I need. It was very valuable being on the practice squad this season. I was able to sit back and learn from those guys. I wasn't getting the physical reps always, but I was getting the mental reps."

He heeded the advice given to him by veterans like Le'Veon Bell, who encouraged him to stay focused and always lay everything on the line, but all the while have fun. He kept his head in the playbook, both while he was at work and in his free time. And when his turn came, when he outplayed veterans ahead of him and worked his way onto the active roster, he was ready.

"The confidence is there," said Toussaint. "It's something I worked for. I never take it for granted. I just go out there and work hard and lay it on the line every day.

"When you are a kid it's something you always dreamt of. A guy like me who has scratched and clawed, it's definitely a tremendous feeling. That is every man's dream and it's all God."

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