PITTSBURGH — Calvin Austin may only be 5-foot-7 and 175 pounds, but the Steelers took a chance on the Memphis speedster in the fourth round of the NFL Draft. Size is always going to be the knock on Austin as it stands. Coming out of high school, Austin was sparsely recruited, even by Memphis.
Austin had some offers from Ivy League schools, but the Memphis offer never came. As such, Austin decided to take a leap of faith and bet on himself. So, he walked on at Memphis in hopes of becoming something. With a track background, Austin knew he had pizzazz that few other guys possessed, and he bet on that.
“I didn’t really get recruited too much,” Austin said. “I went to a couple of Ivy League schools to visit, but besides that, the University of Memphis came. But besides that, an offer never came from there. I ended up just walking on.”
Austin had great camps with multiple teams, but they could never get past the size. Even as Austin ran blazing 40-times, coaches continued to pass on Austin for other players who were taller. That rejection put a chip on Austin’s shoulder right away.
“I would talk to coaches, go to camps, have great showings, and run a fast 40, but they’d always be like your size,” Austin said. “They said I had to get bigger and gain weight. That’s what I wrote down on a notepad. I was out to prove those guys wrong.”
In his entire career, Austin has almost always been the smallest player on any given team that he has stepped onto. However, there is a drive to him that he says will glean through once people see him play. He is out to prove them wrong that he can not win with his size, and that he can make plays over the middle of the field.
“I’ve got heart,” Austin said this weekend at Steelers rookie minicamp. “There is never a time where I felt anyone was too big. That has never happened. When I get out there, I’m a dog. I’m ready for whatever competition and whoever is in front of me. When I’m on the field, I have no fear.”
Mike Tomlin noted that Austin’s 4.32-second 40-yard dash time made them comfortable when picking him. It is that speed that Tomlin believes can add a completely new dimension to the Steelers’ receiving corps.
“When you’re extremely small, you better be fast in this game,” Tomlin said. “That’s the reality of it. That’s nothing new. It’s not earth-shattering nor groundbreaking. That is his (Austin’s) distinguishing trait. It has to show up in all aspects of his play.”
Austin is ready to play wherever he needs to, however, and despite his size, he is not scared of the middle of the field. Even if a linebacker comes over, Austin relishes the opportunity to show up a big hit. For him, if he hangs on, it just means he made the play to make the big hit meaningless.
“I’ve taken plenty of big hits,” Austin said. “The best thing about that is popping up after and flexing on them. After you make that catch, take that big hit, get up and flex on them a little bit.”
Despite that, his build has always been one of his strengths. While Austin may be the smallest in the room, he may also be the strongest. There has never been a locker room where Austin has entered where pound-for-pound he has not been almost the strongest guy on the squad.
“From my experiences in the weight room, I would always be one of the strongest people pound-for-pound,” Austin said. “I don’t quit. That size factor doesn’t exist for me.”
Austin was one of the smallest players drafted in the 2022 NFL Draft. However, through heart and determination, he is out to prove his size does not mean a thing in the NFL. If he has the final say, Austin may just prove his doubters wrong yet again, just like he has his entire life.