Ron Lippock spoke with former Steelers linebacker Alonzo Jackson, who the team took in the 2nd round in 2003 out of Florida State.
First, can you let me know what you’ve been up to since your time in the NFL?
Right now I’m the CEO of a non-profit called Young Kings. We find young men and turn them into young kings here in Atlanta in the low-income areas. We do that through football – teaching them the core values of football, and teamwork. We also teach through basketball and track as well.
What got you started in this?
Really, because my son wanted to play sports, and when I looked around and saw the caliber of coaches around. There were some really good coaches and some really bad ones. So I said, hey, I can do something on my own. Coach Rod Saddler was with me too. He just passed away which was very difficult. Other guys like Ricardo Lockett, who was a very success NFL guy too, and guys from HBCU’s were with me. We are all trying to inspire kids. We all have the same mindset, We all just said, hey, let’s do it!
So let’s start from the start. You were a high draft pick – were you surprised to be drafted by Pittsburgh?
I was super surprised yes. I had a draft party in Georgia. My dad passed away before the draft – he never got to see me get drafted. But he told me once that he said I could end up playing stand-up linebacker for an NFL team. I told him he was crazy.
Well, when Cowher called me it was crazy. I heard his voice on the phone and he said “Hey Alonzo, how are you doing?” I told him “Please don’t be playing with me coach!” and he told me that they were coming up to grab me. It was wild.
You were drafted by the Steelers as an outside linebacker but played defensive line in college. Were you worried about that transition?
Well, I wasn’t as worried as I should have been! I honestly thought it would be a piece of cake. I did the drills before the draft, but man, it’s not the same. Guarding Randle El in the slot was insane. He was the quickest guy I ever saw in my life! So no, I was not used to that. It took a lot of time adjusting to it.
Who helped mentor you on the game – the on-field stuff and off-field stuff?
Kendrell Bell helped me the most as far as the mental part of the game was concerned. He and I connected. We were both part of the same area of Georgia – South Georgia. We grew up 200 miles away from each other. I wish I listed to him more, He was a freak. He was so strong – he knew how to take care of his body, to eat right and work out the right way. I wish I listened to him more about that stuff.
Aaron Smith and James Farrior too. Farrior taught me more of the X’s and O’s. Aaron Smith, well, my locker was next to his. He was a great guy and a mentor on just how to live life. I don’t think he even knew how much of a mentor he was too people.
How frustrated were you having to make the adjustment to outside linebacker when you were a defensive lineman all of your prior experience?
I’ll be honest. It was super frustrating. I’m being 100% honest. I was super frustrated, It was a tough situation. I played defensive end, defensive tackle, and nosetackle in high school and college. I always hand my hands on the ground at Florida State as a defensive end. Then in Pittsburgh, I’m guarding wide receivers!
It was something that was doable. But the odds are stacked against guys who have to switch from the only position they knew to something entirely new, at the highest level of the game.
And more, the expectations in Pittsburgh are super high. You want to do well for the legacy of Pittsburgh, for all of the coaches and fans waving the Terrible Towels, for the other players, for the guys in the barber shop and stores. But it’s super difficult to learn all of that at such a high level.
Did anyone work with you to help show you how to learn the position more?
Well, it was Keith Butler’s first year there. I think he was more or less trying to figure out the guys he had. We had Joey, Larry, Gildon, Haggans – and Harrison was on the practice squad too. He was just trying to figure everybody out. He didn’t have a lot of time to teach and develop guys.
The second year he got into teaching more. But that first year I was really just watching and learning. I didn’t get a lot of snaps. That was frustrating.
I think in the end it’s all about the fit for a player. It’s not about the round – it’s about the fit. If you’re a ‘tweener like I was as a defensive lineman it’s harder than if you’re smaller and have to gain weight – it’s easier to get bigger than to slim down. I went from 285 pounds to 255 pounds. But if I played defensive line at that weight I would have been good.
Give me some fun stories of your time in Pittsburgh?
Ah! Well, I was a classic Georgia boy. I was coming home from practice once, and I had an Isuzu Rodeo. This small car. It was snowing and the roads were icy and I had no idea how to drive in snow. Well, I wrecked my car a little and was n the side of the road stranded. I had no idea where I was and no one knew were I was. The all of the sudden Verron Haynes drives by. He stopped and laughed at me for like 15 minutes before he let me in his car! he told me I needed to get a heavier car.
I also remember the two key guys on defense then – Joey Porter and Larry Foote. They had a thing – each wanted to do the most and show the most. Their antics! Joey had that thing where he would throw his fist and kick after a play. So Larry had his thing where he did that stomp.
I remember the pregame fight Porter had where they said he spit. Well, he didn’t spit. But when Joey gets worked up he foams at the mouth! He just gets wound up and and talks all excitedly and foams in his mouth!
What would you tell people today about your time in Pittsburgh?
It was one of the best places I’ve ever been with. Understanding everything I said before, it wasn’t the best football-wise for me, but it was an amazing opportunity to play the game I love for a team whose coaches built a brotherhood of players and who’s owners were such stand-up guys. It was awesome.