UNITY TWP., Pa. — Nearly every day during Steelers training camp at St. Vincent College, just outside Latrobe, Pa., fans line up early in the morning for the opportunity to catch a glimpse of their favorite football team at work.
Early in the afternoon, the gates open, and they stream into the stands on the west side of Chuck Noll Field and spill out onto the surrounding lawns and hillsides.
Among those fans, particularly on the weekends, there are many, many young boys — and hopefully, a few girls — that hope to be Steelers themselves one day.
They come from all over Western Pennsylvania to watch, cheer, and maybe grab an autograph or a photo with a favorite player.
As youngsters, Western Pa. natives and current Steelers Dravon Askew-Henry and Kevin Rader certainly had thoughts of one day stepping onto the field as members of the Black and Gold.
Rader, a Pine-Richland and Youngstown State graduate, camped with Green Bay last year, but the young tight end saw no regular-season action. Askew-Henry is a former Aliquippa and WVU safety that signed with the Steelers this spring as an undrafted free agent.
But they never made it to St. Vincent College as youngsters. Instead, they’re getting their first Steelers training camp experience as members of the roster.
In fact, the first time either had ever even been to the campus was when Rader pulled his pickup truck into the driveway on move-in day.
“I’ve never been here and I’ve lived here my whole life,” he said. “It’s kind of funny.”
“I never came here, but I always heard and knew about it and watched it on TV to see the highlights and everything,” Askew-Henry said.”
Of course, the fans are a big part of what makes the Steelers training camp experience a special one, and it’s hard not to notice them from the minute the team descends the hill onto the playing field.
“It’s different,” Askew-Henry said. “It brings that game atmosphere type of feeling.”
The other thing that stands out about Steelers camp to those that grew up idolizing the team is the history of the place. Heinz Field and the Steelers’ South Side practice facility haven’t even been around for 20 years now.
But they’ve been coming to training camp near Latrobe for 54 years. That means that greats like Joe Greene, Franco Harris and Lynn Swann all made their Steelers debuts in exactly the same setting as Askew-Henry and Rader.
“It’s definitely a special place that all the guys and players that you think about have been playing and staying here for camp,” Rader said.
Of course, at 24 and 25, they youngest Steelers’ memories are a bit more current.
“The history here runs a long way, way before my time,” Askew-Henry said. “I’ve been watching this team since I was a kid. One of my favorite players ever was Troy Polamalu, so I mean. This history goes way back.”
The other thing being at St. Vincent College means for players like Askew-Henry and Rader is that it’s close enough to drive home on an off day, go back to get something they forgot, or have friends and family visit practice.
“I’m an hour up the road. I’m pretty sure they’ll be here,” Askew-Henry said, squinting while looking toward the bleachers. “I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some here today.”
Watch: Steelers LB Ola Adeniyi Surprises Mother with SUV for Birthday
Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Olasunkanmi Adeniyi had a big surprise for his mother for her birthday last week.
Adeniyi, who was born in Nigeria and grew up in Texas, posted a video on Friday of him surprising his mother with a Range Rover for her birthday.
Adeniyi, 23, just finished his third season with the Steelers in 2020 after joining the team as an undrafted free agent out of Toledo in 2018.
He got his most extensive playing time this season, appearing in 14% of the team’s defensive snaps after playing just 1% and 6% in his first two seasons. The injury to Bud Dupree opened up more playing time for Adeniyi and rookie Alex Highsmith at outside linebacker. Adeniyi has been a consistent performer on special teams the last two seasons.
Adeniyi is a restricted free agent this offseason and should be expected to earn a raise on his $575,000 salary from this past season.
Jerome Bettis Helps Start Memorial Fund for Family of Tim Lester
Steelers running back Jerome Bettis is trying to help out the family of his former teammate.
Tim Lester, who was Bettis’ teammate and lead blocker with the Steelers and Los Angeles Rams, died this week at the age of 52 due to complications from COVID-19.
After Lester’s death, Bettis started the Tim Lester Family Memorial Fund, and a GoFundMe page that has accumulated over $35,000 worth of donations in just two days.
“We are deeply saddened by this tragedy and want to support Tim’s wife Natalie and children Tim Jr., Tristan and Tony in any way we can,” Bettis wrote. “I , Jerome Bettis, with the help of my family, friends and former teammates of mine and Tim’s have set up this memorial fund to help the Lester family with funeral costs. We thank you for your thoughts, prayers, well wishes and generous donations in lieu of flowers.”
James Farrior, Joey Porter, Kordell Stewart and Will Wolford are among the former teammates that have contributed.
Report: Ben Roethlisberger Wants JuJu Smith-Schuster to Return to Steelers for 2021
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is expected to return to the team, according to a report by NFL Network, and he apparently also wants wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster to return to the team with him.
NFL Network’s Mike Garafalo reported that Roethlisberger has communicated to the team that he wants Smith-Schuster back for the 2021 season.
Roethlisberger has one season left on his contract, which carries a $41 million cap hit, including $19 million of salary. Smith-Schuster is set to become a free agent for the first time in his career after making $1.04 million in 2020.
Roethlisberger’s contract is a big part of a money crunch that has the Steelers as much as $40 million over the 2021 salary cap entering the offseason.
Smith-Schuster is expected to make as much as $15 million per year on a market-value contract.
It’s not clear how the Steelers would be able to fit both Roethlisberger and Smith-Schuster under the 2021 salary cap. Roethlisberger would almost certainly have to take a significant pay cut.