PITTSBURGH — If you listen closely enough, there’s still a good bit of a Ninth Ward New Orleans accent in the voice of Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Art Maulet.
Maulet, 29 is in his second season with the Pittsburgh Steelers and has been away from his home town for a little while now. But there’s no question that it is home, and the New Orleans Saints are a lot more than his hometown team.
When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, Maulet was 12 years old. Displaced from his home, Maulet and his grandfather lived in the Superdome for several weeks. He ended up moving to Michigan before moving back to the New Orleans suburb of Kenner, Louisiana, where he attended Bonnabel High School.
But football dreams quickly took him away from his home again. Maulet attended Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Mississippi for two seasons before transferring to Memphis in 2015. After two seasons with the Tigers and a trip to the Senior Bowl in nearby Mobile, Alabama, Maulet was poised to get his shot in the NFL.
While he wasn’t selected in the 2017 NFL Draft, he got a phone call that was almost as good that April, as his hometown Saints wanted to give him a chance to play in the building he once lived in.
Maulet spent the 2017 bouncing between the Saints active roster and practice squad. He was cut three times that first season. He played in six games and made one tackle.
“It was fun,” Maulet said. “That’s the team that gave my first chance. Obviously, being from New Orleans and playing for my home town, it was a lot. But it was a learning experience. It taught me a lot about the business side of the NFL and how you’ve got to keep going to get what you want.”
In 2018, he was claimed on waivers by the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts gave him a chance and he even started a game, but he was cut once again. The Saints took him back, and he finished the 2018 season on the New Orleans practice squad. But it was clear that his NFL future was going to have to elsewhere.
“I was cut like four times by the Saints,” Maulet said. “It was a little more animosity my second year, a little bit of motivation, getting cut twice when I thought I was ready to play.”
Maulet has spent his time away from New Orleans growing nearly every time he left home. It was that childhood stint in Michigan that he credits for falling in love with football in the first place. His two college stops helped prepare him for the NFL.
After leaving the Saints, Maulet played two seasons with the New York Jets where he expanded his role from traditional slot corner to playing outside and safety. He signed a two-year free agent contract with the Steelers in 2021 as the team’s top attempt to replace departed star Nickel man Mike Hilton.
In a topsy-turvy second season, Maulet has been one of the few consistent players in the Steelers secondary. He’s the only regular that has not missed time with injury, and his presence as not just a sure tackler but as a communicator and leader have been critical so far.
“He’s really good in first and second-down football: blitzing, run-game stuff,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said. “He’s a solid tackler. His level of communication and the quality of his communication really has dramatically improved and I think that’s a reasonable expectation from Year 1 to 2, this being Year 2 of being a contributor for us. I think that’s been evident in his play.”
“What he brings to the field, it’s huge, not just to our room, but to our entire defense,” said second-year defensive back Tre Norwood, who has become something of a Maulet understudy as a free safety and slot corner. “He’s a vet a guy. He’s played a lot of football in this league. With me being in Year 2, I like to learn from those guys, just how he digests plays, the intensity and physicality that he plays with. Each and every snap he goes 110% and he doesn’t take any plays off.”
When New Orleans fans turn on the television on Sunday, the might see a different Maulet than the one that left Louisiana in 2018.
“I’m more mature,” Maulet said. “I’ve played a lot of football. I know my role and I feel like I’m playing it well now. I’m excited.”
While Maulet admitted that the way his second season in New Orleans ended left a bad taste in his mouth, he’s mostly just excited to be suiting up against his hometown team for the first time in his career.
“You grow from it, you learn the business aspect of things and now they get to play against me in my home stadium in Pittsburgh,” Maulet said. “Playing against them is going to be fun, because I’m going to see a lot of guys that I came into the league with. It’s going to be crazy, man. Going up against my home town, playing one of my idols, Tyrann Mathieu. That’s one of the guys where I’m from. Being LSU guy, Pro Bowl guy in the a league, a guy that I looked up to. It’s crazy that I’m going to be playing against him. Hopefully, I can make more plays than him on Sunday.”