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Steelers Vets Hoping to Pass on St. Vincent Traditions

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Steelers Training Camp

UNITY TWP., Pa. — For the vast majority of the players that report to Pittsburgh Steelers training camp on the campus of St. Vincent College on Tuesday, it was a first-time experience. 

Just 19 of the 90 on the training camp roster had previously spent a full summer practicing in the shadows of the basilica’s spires.

For the rest of the squad, it will be a big adjustment. From dorm life to long practice days and nights to thousands of passionate fans ringing the practice field, camp at Chuck Noll Field is unlike anything anywhere else.

It’s also an important Steelers tradition. Cam Heyward’s dorm room this year used to belong to Ben Roethlisberger. The campus has changed over the years, but the same hill that players will climb to and from practice was hiked by Steelers teams dating back to the 1960s, including six Super Bowl winners.

“You have to experience it for yourself,” Heyward said. 

While passing on the traditions of training camp are one of Heyward’s jobs as a team leader and mentor, he’s mostly letting his younger brethren (and his literal younger brother, tight end Connor Heyward), figure out how special Steelers training camp at St. Vincent can be for themselves.

“For me, all I told them was, ‘Make sure you bring your own sheets,’” Heyward said. “I think you come up here, you get to bond with your team. You get to get up close with you guys, up close with the fans, and it’s one of those sacred places that will never go away.”

After two years of training camp at Heinz Field, Heyward said he’s looking forward to the camaraderie of camp away from home the most. 

“Those nights when you could simply be in the confines of your home, you’re here bonding with your teammates, you get to work more football,” Heyward said. “When we were at Heinz, you end the day a little bit earlier because everyone was getting out of there. Here, it’s football all day, football all night.”

Fellow defensive veteran T.J. Watt said that he’s tried to help the younger players understand that things that may seem like an inconvenience — small dorm rooms, limited amenities, no restaurants, no families — are actually part of what makes it special.

“You can look at it one of two ways, you can say, ‘man I wish we were back in Pittsburgh,’ or you can embrace this and love the tradition, love the history of this place and really just take it all in and put your best foot forward,” Watt said. “I think that’s really the most important thing for these young guys. We have to remember that we’re living our dreams. This is the best job in the world. This is what we dreamed of as kids. So don’t think for a second that you’re better than Latrobe, because you’re not.”

Head coach Mike Tomlin said he didn’t specifically give his veteran leaders a message to deliver about the importance of St. Vincent, but Heyward and Watt sure seem to have developed a coherent message to the younger players on the team.

The Steelers put out a training camp hype video on Monday that was composed entirely of St. Vincent veterans talking about their time near Latrobe.

“I think the bonding is the main thing,” Heyward said, while rattling off his laundry list of board games and other activities that he brought along for the trip. “I’m really looking forward to the rookie show. We’ve got some new guys that need to take over.”

Like his little brother? Watt said he was dreaming up some training camp pranks to pull on his bother Derek, who he has an adjoining room with. Heyward was mum on what he has in store for his younger brother, which is probably even scarier. Rookie shows and training camp pranks are part of the fabric of the rituals that accompany the history of going to a place like St. Vincent, and the Steelers players seem keen to pass them on after a long hiatus.

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