Our Ron Lippock caught up with Steelers tight end Christian Scotland-Williamson, a former English rugby player that spent the entire 2018 season on the practice squad.
First, I know your dad was a big influence on your life. Can you describe how so — how he impacted your development?
I’m lucky. My dad was a former boxer. He would have made it to the Olympics, but broke his foot. He would have medaled, they say. He was grounded. Amateur boxing was as big as professional boxing in England and he chose to keep boxing as an amateur. He was a great role model because he showed me how to balance life. He balanced boxing and his career with getting an education. He later went back to school and became a barrister.
So, he showed me that you could do both — be an elite athlete and have an academic career.
How did that help impact your athletic development as well?
Just seeing his work ethic, the late hours he put in, watching him train. My brother was older and saw more of it, but I still saw how hard he worked. And he put me through some of the basics too! But I would go to his gym with him when I was five or six and soak up the atmosphere and that boxing grind. Boxing is a lonely sport. That’s why I have such great respect for it. You’re out there one-on-one. That mentality helped me too, even in a team sport like football and rugby.
Did you get any grief for changing sports from rugby to football? Anyone ask why rugby wasn’t enough for you?
That wasn’t the case. I knew what rugby could offer me and it would have been fantastic to continue to play rugby, especially since I was beginning to really make a name for myself. But I wanted to challenge myself and the NFL was the ultimate challenge, especially for someone who never played before.
My dad missed out on the Olympics. He didn’t want me to come over and play football. He didn’t want me to give up on something I worked so hard for. I played rugby since I was nine years old. He didn’t understand that — didn’t want me to go chasing the unknown. So I had a sales pitch for him. I sat down with he and my mother for an hour and told him he could ask me any questions, but after that he had to support me.
I didn’t want to be a shoulda, woulda, coulda guy. I believed in my skills and abilities. It takes proper courage to risk something.
Any reason you chose to play tight end versus defense?
I think it was because of my versatile skillset. I think due to my body type, I could block well as an inline tight end. And they felt with my personality I could grasp the playbook. I have a defensive mindset too, and they felt I could bring that to the tight end position.
What are the things you need to work on most right now to take that next step as an NFL tight end?
Blocking consistency, especially in the passing game. Last year, I was just finding my feet. Now, I’m trying to nail down my pass protection and run blocking. And I need to find my role on special teams. As an undrafted free agent, you don’t make the team if you can’t play on special teams.
I’ve been working with former Steelers tight end David Johnson on my blocking footwork, refining my technique. I’ve been watching film, watching myself and breaking myself down. It’s hard to do that during the season because it’s always off to the next thing.
Any additional pressure to succeed and to represent England? And when did it hit you that you’ve succeeded in taking that first big step?
I think there’s less external pressure for me. It’s more in me to achieve the goals I want to achieve. I want to represent my family well of course, but it’s ultimately just about achieving my own goals.
I haven’t felt that much yet. I’m not on the 53 yet. I’ve supported the Steelers since I was 14, so it was surreal ending up in the building.
I guess the moment it dawned on me most so far was being on the sidelines last year when we beat New England. Watching two storied franchises, Ben [Roethlisberger] and Tom Brady going at it, and winning the game. That was a pinch me moment. To come so far, to be a pro football player and be on the sidelines.
Any mentors really help you so far?
Will Johnson, another former Steeler. I talked to him through the whole season. He kept me going. He was an external voice that helped me with the off-the-field things. And Jesse James and Xavier Grimble helped me on the field whenever I had a question. They were the first to step up and helped me.
Have you enjoyed being on the practice squad and working with guys that way as well?
I’m still learning my own technique and my own style of playing, so I haven’t watched a lot of film on guys we played to take on those roles in practice. There wasn’t really a lot of time to do so – working so much on my technique.
Any fun stories of your time on the team so far?
I think the language barrier has been funny sometimes. We’re both English speaking countries of course, but sometimes you have to watch what words you use because they mean different things, and they guys sometimes can’t understand my accent.
I have to catch myself sometimes. Like when I use the word “water”, I would pronounce it “watah”, and they’d ask me who Watah was!
Any cultural adjustments besides the language?
I love living out here. I love Pittsburgh. I grew up in London and it’s a lot like New York. And Pittsburgh is a big enough city as well where you can carve out your own space. I love traveling and embracing other cultures. It’s been cool doing that in the states. I’m settled in. I went to boarding school when I was younger so I’m used to being away from home so that’s not a problem. And my parents were able to come in and watch me play. They came in to see us play Carolina last year.
Any thoughts on the upcoming season?
Last year I was just trying to figure out stuff for myself. This year is the year I make a name for myself and go for it all.