When playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers, there exists a certain criteria or culture that exists, as the franchise is often looked at as one of the classiest organizations, from top to bottom, in the entire league. A hilarious moment is brought to mind when I think of a prime example of this, in the fourth quarter of a 37-3 clobbering the team was laying on the Carolina Panthers. Pittsburgh’s then-rookie safety, Anthony Smith, had just picked off an errant Chris Weinke throw and started doing his best impersonation of Deion Sanders, high-stepping and hot-dogging it until getting shoved out of bounds. It might’ve been better that he stayed inbounds, because former defensive boss, Dick LeBeau and head coach Bill Cowher had somewhat of a “talk” with him immediately after.
This philosophy is a trickle-down from the front office to the players, where doing things the right way is the “Steelers way” and it’s further evidence why the bad apples from the last few seasons were removed from the team. Previous players like Jerome Bettis, Hines Ward or Troy Polamalu were revered for their “good-guy” personas, and the newest influx of Steelers came to fruition this past weekend, with none expected to make a bigger splash than first-rounder, Bud Dupree.
About a year ago, Dupree wasn’t being shuttled to his introductory press conference though, he was on a student-athlete service trip to Korah, an impoverished and disease-stricken area of Ethiopia. Leprosy and HIV run rampant, and the inhabitants live in mud huts along dirt roads, right across from a trash dump. Fittingly enough, this is the place they often find food and clothing.
Jason Schlafer, Kentucky’s executive associate athletic director, will twice a year bring student-athletes here to bring necessities like food and proper clothing to the impoverished folks who live here. All in all, he’s probably taken close to 40 athletes from various sports on the trip. But the way Schlafer saw Dupree interact with the people there is something even he admits he’s never seen before.
“It was really obvious Bud has a big heart for the poor,” Schlafer said, according to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette. “He was the first hug. He’s holding their hand and gives them that great big smile. He was unafraid to help them. A lot of folks are when you deal with people who are deformed because of leprosy. He was compassionate and empathetic.”
The thing that sticks out though is how gracious Dupree was for Schlafer to take him.
“He pulled me aside on several occasions to thank me for taking him,” Schlafer told Dulac.
Dupree has also partaken in Kentucky’s “Big Blue Move-In” that helps the thousands of incoming students each semester in their move onto the Lexington campus. He also does volunteer work with God’s Pantry Food Bank, which helps aid multiple counties in Kentucky with 30 million or so pounds of groceries each year.
It’s fair to say the front office took this into consideration when they made him their top pick, although they didn’t actually think he’d be available to them. Who knows, maybe one day Dupree will be given the annual Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, that honors a player’s volunteer and charity work.
It was obvious the Steelers were attracted to Dupree’s unique package of size, athleticism and explosion, as he goes 6-foot-4 and 269 pounds, with only 14 percent body fat.
“This will be the fourth first-round draft pick I’ve been around from the defensive line, and I would say he’s the best athlete I’ve ever coached or been around,” Kentucky defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh told Dulac.
Brumbaugh was quick to note his ability to not only pin his ears back and hunt quarterbacks, but also his ability to drop into coverage.
“You go over the whole NFL and over everything, those kind of guys are very, very hard to find,” he said. “They’re special. In all my years of being in a 3-4 and being around, I haven’t seen many of them who can do both — and he can do it.”
For now though, Dupree looks to eagerly get to work in adding some of his athleticism and explosion into a Steelers’ pass rush that could surely use it. Before being drafted, he’d never before been to the Steel City, but he looked quite at home meeting and greeting with fans on the South Side, stopping to snap pictures before devouring his Primanti Bros. sandwich.
So far, he looks to be just as impressive off the field as he does on it, and that’s a trait fans will come to love, much like they have with many of the aforementioned greats. It’s often guys like Dupree who make fans admit, without hesitation, that they’re a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“He’s a guy I can leave my son with, and you don’t have many players like that in your lifetime,” Brumbaugh said. “He’s that kind of person.”