Our Ron Lippock caught up with former Steeler linebacker Stevenson Sylvester, who played for the team from 2010-13.
First, tell me about all of the things you’ve been doing post-NFL – you’ve been busy!
Yeah, I’ve been trying to stay busy. The transition to post-NFL life is difficult. It’s hard to find ways to keep that competitive spirit you’re used to having. That daily work ethic you have to stay ready for football, how to translate that to something else.
I started a non-profit after my last year in Buffalo called Athletes Strong. I worked with the NFL Play 60 while in the NFL so working with communities – that was second-nature for me. So Athletes Strong, we work with other athletes to show their importance to helping communities overcome issues. We work right now in the Utah Valley, but hope in the future to work in the Southwest United States as well. That’s what I do on the side.
And you have your own business as well?
I started an app to help cosmetology businesses, that’s my main deal. We help connect people with their desired beauty partner, barbers, eyelash beauticians, nail, salons. I saw how Uber and Airbnb made life easier for people, to make things more convenient. Well, as a linebacker, our job was to analyze and problem solve – that’s what I did by nature, So I took those skills into my post-NFL life and put them to work. I traveled a lot and always found it hard connecting with the right service who did what I needed and who to book appointments quickly. You can Google and find a salon, but you don’t know who the person is doing the work there. This app helps you find the right people at the right price you want and to book appointments quickly. It’s just a way to make life simpler for people.
How did you make that post-NFL adjustment easier for yourself? It’s difficult for so many.
Honestly, just by staying busy. I never stopped. I didn’t have that avenue for hitting people on the field anymore like I liked to do. But I challenged myself in other ways. Through my charity work, and then by learning new technologies and business skills – something I never had before. I took classes offered in my community and took advantage of the opportunities offered by the NFL Trust and stayed busy. That’s the thing. It’s not easy – we’ve been playing since we were knee-high, Then, even without asking for it, you have to stop all of the sudden. It’s like that line from Friday Night Lights – “All I know is football!” You just have to focus your energy on something else. It’s difficult and there’s often not man y people to talk to about that transition.
So, looking back on it, were you surprised to be drafted by Pittsburgh?
Absolutely. I had no idea. My last two years, if you know anything about my college career, were a bit crazy. My junior year we went undefeated and beat Alabama and I had a great season. People told me I should leave early for the draft but I decided to stay and play my senior year. It wasn’t as great of a year for me so my stock went down. At that time, the Steelers had just won a Super Bowl, James Harrison was the defensive player of the year and they had a ton of good linebackers.
People were guessing that if I came out my junior year I’d have been drafted in the second round. I was frustrated as round four of the draft went by, and in round five I got a call from a 412 number. I didn’t recognize the area code but when I picked it up it was Mike Tomlin. I was thinking, “Are you sure you have the right number coach?” He asked me if I’d like to be a Steeler and I told him ” No question!”. To this day when I tell people played for the Steelers they lose their minds! It was a tremendous honor.
Who helped mentor you over the course of your upbringing and time in Pittsburgh as well?
My mother was the most significant influence. At a young age, she was a single mother who raised me and my brother, then when my aunt got into trouble, her six kids were going to be placed into foster care so my mother took them in as well. She was a social worker and knew how the foster system worked.
So as a single mother she raised eight kids- we were tight. She took care of us without much child support or funds from the state. She made it happen and that instilled hard work in us at a young age.
When I was in high school I worked hard, but I lacked confidence. I didn’t really become confident in myself into the later years f high school. We’d have tough practices, then while everyone else was taking it easy after practice, my mother would make me do extra work after practice on drills while all the other guys watched me. It was embarrassing but it gave me a greater work ethic.
I ended up starting my freshman year in college. While everyone else was struggling n the high altitude in Salt Lake, I ran like a deer. Everyone wondered how I was doing it. It was because my mother instilled that work ethic in me.
How about in Pittsburgh?
In Pittsburgh, the players were awesome. And the coaches were so welcoming too. There was a light nature there. Everyone was competitive, but they all wanted to help you. No one was against you like you would hear about on other teams. If you were better than another player, it was so competitive that it just made them appreciate you more. Lamarr Woodley, James Farrior, Larry Foote, they were so open to helping me. It was surprising, no matter what the question, about why we do drops a certain way — anything — they took the time to help me.
Any funny stories you can share with us?
It was such an awesome experience. It really was like being on my college team.
I think it was when I was a rookie, or maybe my second season – we’d have club night on Wednesdays. After the bigger defensive unit meetings, we’d break out into our positional meetings, we’d go to the linebacker room and on Wednesdays it was club night! Woodley was at the door handling security, Foote would be in back pretending he was making out with someone, Farrior and Harrison were dancing on the tables, and Keyaron Fox was flickering the lights like they were strobe lights! It was so funny. The locker room was just awesome.
I talked to friends I had that were on other teams and none had experiences like that. It was so different in Pittsburgh and I think that’s why they were so successful.
Any thoughts for guys entering the game today, after all of those experiences you had?
I think, remember what you’ve been told your whole life. There’s a reason why you are there on the team. When I was a rookie, I’d see so many guys check themselves out — off the team. Telling themselves they’ll be cut after they count who else is on the roster.
There were literally 13 linebackers in the linebackers room when I was there. Two were drafted the same year as me before me! But I made them keep nine linebackers. They usually just kept eight.
There was a reason why I was there. They believed in my potential when they drafted me. So really experience the Pittsburgh journey. They really believe that everyone they bring in has a chance.