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Steelers HC Mike Tomlin On Cam Heyward: “I Watched Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel Raise Him”

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Steelers HC Mike Tomlin On Cam Heyward: “I Watched Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel Raise Him”

When the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Cameron Heyward, they were coming off of a Super Bowl appearance, and two Super Bowl victories in the six seasons prior. The Steelers roster was full of future Hall of Famers and leaders. But as with everything, all good things had to come to an end. As Heyward would enter the Steelers locker room, the stars of the 2010s were entering the twilight of their magical careers.

Steelers Heyward and Kiesel

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Guys like Aaron Smith, Troy Polamalu, Hines Ward, James Farrior, Casey Hampton, and Chris Hoke. They had all entered the league many years before and were raised on the “Steeler Way” by guys like Alan Faneca, Jerome Bettis, and Joey Porter. They were taught how to act on the field and off of it.

Heyward would begin his days with the Steelers with high expectations. A first round selection from Ohio State University, he was expected to perform as soon as he stepped into his cleats. That didn’t happen. Some of it was because he was playing behind Smith and Brett Keisel, and some of it was because Heyward wasn’t ready. In an interview a few months ago with Pat McAfee, Heyward recalled the feelings of being a bust. But as Smith would retire, and Heyward would find the field more, it started all coming together for Heyward.

But without the guidance of Smith, and Keisel particularly, Heyward’s progress may have been stymied with the Steelers. This week, Mike Tomlin joined the Bleav in Steelers Podcast with hosts Mark Bergin and Ike Taylor. Tomlin gushed as he spoke about Heyward.


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“The beautiful thing about Cam is I watched Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel raise him. I watched them raise him and I watched him receive that humbly, like come every day and learn from some professionals, and we laugh because those guys had car seats in the back of their cars, and they were just at a different stage of life than he was. And it’s just cool to see him do similar things to the next generation of guys. The patience and time that he has, Isaiahh Loudermilk and guys like that, and the fact that he has car seats in the back of his car and he’s the guy that’s a multiple time All-Pro, has got hardware and things of that nature. Just to see that teaching and learning. That stuff makes Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh. I think it’s really put on display in the career of a guy like Cam. I watched him receive it. I’ve watched him take some of those lessons and utilize his God given talents and build a career for himself. And it’s cool now to watch him embrace the responsibility that comes with sharing that with others. When some of the old guys, some of your old teammates come by practice, man, they are proud of that, man.

And they should be guys like Brett Keisel, guys like Chris Hoke, Aaron Smith, man, they see him and they see the man that he is for us, and they’re proud of it, and they should be, because that’s what we’re doing here, man. Cam is the bridge. It’s funny. I always talk to Cam about when you guys are in town or anticipate when you guys are in town because he really is the bridge. He’s the guy that sits around in quiet moments in between period special teams, and he’s giving these guys stories of you guys and what it means to be a Pittsburgh Steeler. And that is really a cool thing. He wears it in such a natural way. And I want you to know, like I tell everybody else, man, he’s doing a heck of a job, man, of sharing the lessons that you guys taught him and making sure that the legacy lives on.”

Steelers Heyward and Kiesel

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Tomlin spoke recently about how he dealt with Polamalu, and now with Minkah Fitzpatrick. About how their intangibles from a mental standpoint are unique. Something else that Tomlin is always trying to learn from these young men is what type of man are they? He was able to learn what time of man Heyward was from the jump.

“Hey, I’m always trying to capture that which you cannot measure the intangible quality of a man. Right? That will. What is he willing to do? And that’s what makes football a genetic game. It really does, particularly when you’re my age, right? I’m 50 years old, man. So many dudes I’ve known the vast majority of my life growing up with in this football business and playing alongside or coaching against and so forth. I see their kids playing and young dudes come up to me, hey, my dad told me to tell you hello. I’m like, who’s your dad? I’m like, oh, tell him I said, what’s up? And I think that’s football. And I’ve gotten an appreciation for that.

You think guys like TJ and Derek Watt man didn’t sharpen their swords and gain a real perspective on their football careers by watching what JJ did? You really think TJ and Derek were really excited about being All-State or something in the state of Wisconsin, man? The standard of expectation was set for those guys, and I think their expectation is on a different level than maybe a lot of people who don’t have a sibling doing things at a ridiculous level.”

The Steelers selected Heyward’s younger brother Connor Heyward last week during the sixth round of the 2022 NFL Draft. The youngest Heyward didn’t come out with the same amount of hype as the eldest, but the tangibles of being an NFL player are in his blood. Their father “Ironhead” Heyward was a standout at Pitt before entering the NFL. The Steelers haven’t shied away from trying to recruit players who have NFL bloodlines. The Steelers now have four sets of brothers on the roster and countless players who have had fathers or uncles play in the NFL. One example is Devin Bush whose father played in the NFL.

“Think about Connor Heyward’s whole life, man. Cam is significantly older than him, and so he’s witnessed what it takes to be successful and be successful in a real way at the highest level of the game. And there’s something to be learned from that, I think. And also that spirit is within him. And so I’m always going to be attracted to siblings and family members and so forth. I think football is a family business, I think not only in terms of spirit, but in terms of understanding. When you witness some things, you grow from it. And I believe that all the younger brothers that we’ve had an opportunity to do business with really kind of display that, you know, it’s funny. Often times people talk about the brothers and they talk about the Edmunds, for example, shoot. It goes beyond the brother game in terms of the advance for me. Their dad played football at the University of Maryland, and so my brother played at Maryland back in the day. I’ve known of those guys and how important football is to their family, man, before they existed. And so that’s the cool thing.”

The Steelers will continue to be in good hands as long as they have men like Heyward to deliver the message of what it means to be a professional and lend an ear when a younger player needs advice. It’s something that the Steelers can’t afford to ever lose even in a day and age that is unlike any other in NFL history.

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The Steelers have always been a central part of my life. I grew up listening to WDVE tapes recorded off of the radio of Steelers fight songs, and wearing Steelers jerseys as a fashion statement. I joined the SteelerNation.com message board when I was 12, and this site has been a big part of my life ever since. I’ve found life long friends and met some of the best people on earth through this site. In 2015, I was able to help revive the site and develop a news website and all of our social media platforms. I can’t wait to continue to grow with all of you. Go Steelers!

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  1. Pingback: Steelers' Dominate Retired 7th Rounder, Brett Keisel Explained How An Inspiring Parking Lot Conversation With Dan Rooney Changed His Career - SteelerNation.com

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