Our Ron Lippock spoke with former Steeler, and current MMA fighter, Jason Chery about his progression in the NFL and what he’s up to now.
First, can you let me know what you’ve been doing with yourself since your NFL days?
Right now as a profession – to get money I’m working as a plumber. On top of that I’m training for the MMA and plan to go pro soon. I have a wrestling background from high school where I won the state title.
I’ve stayed in shape after football and needed to find work. My friend was in plumbing so that’s how I got into that. I had a criminal justice degree but that required a regular sit-down job, and I’d just go to sleep doing that! I have a knack for it – I like plumbing and working on AC. It’s the best thing for me.
Tell me how you go involved in MMA?
I’m trying to make MMA a reality. I have my first match in June. Once I was done with football I started working out with a friend who was a wrestler too. I was watching TV and knew I needed to do something. I signed up with a local gym and have been working on it since.
So far, so good. I have the wrestling part down for the most part. The striking and kicking are the harder things to pick up for me. But I’m getting better and better. I’m taking jujitsu for MMA. I feel like a freshman all over again – trying to hang with the big boys!
Stepping back – let’s talk about your time in the NFL and how you got started with the Steelers?
In Carolina I made the practice squad. I was learning as I was playing. In college I transferred to receiver from running back instead of being redshirted. They had an opening at wide receiver so I chose that even though I was a good running back.
But i was still raw coming into the NFL. Learning how to play the position at that level was hard. I was making errors – I wasn’t as polished as the other receivers, so they ended up letting me go.
And you signed with the Steelers…
I stayed in shape and Pittsburgh called me in for a workout. They tested me on the 40, catching drills – I thought it went well. I was getting ready to go back home when Mike Tomlin came up to me and asked me if I wanted to stay. I was thinking, “What kind of question is that? Hell yeah!”
My agent must have set the workout up – maybe they saw my preseason film from Carolina. I had a nice touchdown catch and played special teams – was a return guy and gunner.
They get it in Pittsburgh – they give you a chance. Ike Taylor was there and he played at the same college I did and transferred from running back to cornerback in college. He had a great 40 at the combine and I ran a 4.3 flat at my workout. They saw something in him and me too I guess.
Who helped you out the most when you got to Pittsburgh – Ike?
Ike was the first person, yes. But Hines Ward helped the most. I used to joke that he was the highest paid assistant coach on the team. He knew where everyone should be all the time. He knew what to do on every play. He didn’t have to practice much – he helped show me routes and was such an honest, genuine guy. And the hardest worker on the team.
Another person who astonished me was Troy. He was a demon on the field and quiet off the field. I got to know him. he was so soft-spoken.
What was the hardest part for you about making the team?
I was athletic – I had speed. And I was stubborn. While Hines helped me the most, there’s not much he can do in the end. It’s up to me to learn the playbook and execute. You just have to open up their eyes and get them to invest a little in you. As an undrafted free agent, you can’t mess up. I think if I was drafted, even in the last round, I would have had a better chance.
That wears on you after a while – knowing you can’t make any mistakes. I thrived on special teams, but I caught a ball from Dennis Dixon and split my hand open. I was wearing gloves and the gloves didn’t get torn, but somehow I had to get stitches then a cast on the hand. I still tried to practice but it was hard to do.
So what happened after that?
Stefan Logan was there then – he and I were roommates and linked up well. But we were competing for the job. And they had brought in Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders too – that dropped me even lower there.
After all that, I was released. They treated me well. After that, I went to Green Bay. I remember a game in preseason versus Indy and I was begging the coach to put me in. I did well ion practice that week and the punt returner in the game wasn’t doing much They finally put me in and I remember my heart beating. I had butterflies. I caught the ball and returned it for a touchdown – on television. I remember thinking Pittsburgh should have kept me – I showed them! But, it still wasn’t meant to be. I thought I made the team – but I guess not.
Any fun memories of your time in Pittsburgh?
I was at Ty Carter’s house – that was the first time I ever saw snow. Stefan Logan was there too and some other guys. They asked if I never saw snow before and I told them, only in my freezer. I started to try and taste it then slipped and fell in front of everyone. I got some good grief from that!
And James Harrison – I’ll never forget. He picked me up and drove me in his Mercedes to this sushi place with some of the other guys. I never knew what his favorite drink was. It was sake. Hot sake – he liked it hot. I tried it – and it was the worst thing for me. I was drunk after two drinks!
Any thoughts as you look back on your time in Pittsburgh?
There were phenomenal guys in Pittsburgh. It was an atmosphere like no other. Just the politics and business side of the game – of making a team was difficult. Playing at that level is everyone’s dream. But the political part wears on you. I rarely watch football now – I kid you not.
But I bet you watch a lot of MMA now?
Oh yeah! I plan on going all the way and winning the belt! For those who say no way, they forget how stubborn I am!
I live by two quotes. “A man must do something he has never done before to get something he never had.” And “Once first shall be last, and what was last shall be first.” I know I have to do something completely new to succeed at MMA and I know I have a long way to go to make it happen. But don’t forget – I’m stubborn!