Growing up, a lot of us had dreams and aspirations of playing in professional sports, as we idolized and grew to love the stars from our favorite teams. As the NBA Finals are under way, we see mega-star LeBron James jumping out of the gym, throwing down rim-rattling dunks and spinning the perfect touches on his needle-thread assists and we wonder what it’s like to not only play a sport at that level but also to play it in front of your hometown crowd. It has to be a dream come true, and Pittsburgh Steelers fifth-round pick, tight end Jesse James, is living the dream, having played his high school ball at South Allegheny High School in a suburb of Pittsburgh.
James is pretty much a lock to make the 53-man roster, as he offers a tantalizing combination of size and athleticism, and could be the future of the position for the team, post-Heath Miller. There is another local product, however, who was added to the roster this offseason, but he’s no stranger to the world of professional football, having spent time with both the Buffalo Bills and the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers franchise. Ian Wild, the 2008 graduate of Baldwin High School in the foothills of Pittsburgh, was signed by the team in January to compete for a roster spot at the safety position.
After coming from the small Division II school, Mercyhurst, where he was a two-sport star at both football and lacrosse, Wild decided to channel his focus into football, and he’s struck gold with the chance that’s in front of him to play for his hometown team. With the question marks surrounding the position on the team, this is a chance of a lifetime for Wild to prove he belongs, not only at the NFL level but with a storied franchise like Pittsburgh.
“The safety spot is open and there is a competition for it, and I am here to compete for it,” Wild said, according to Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “Some people might think it is a risk to leave the CFL, but if you are playing for your hometown team, it isn’t really a tough decision. Coming here is a no-brainer.”
While playing for Winnipeg, Wild displayed a rare versatility, showing off linebacker instincts near the line of scrimmage but also the ability to drop into coverage. After notching 142 tackles in his two seasons north of the border, he feels it proved he has what it takes to play at the pro level, although the NFL is a completely different beast. At 6-foot and 205 pounds, he possesses the requisite size of the position and could find himself in a heated battle with fan favorite, Ross Ventrone, for a roster spot. Although a starting spot is obviously out of the question, Wild could carve out a nice niche as a special teams demon for coach, Danny Smith.
After growing up rooting for the Steelers, it has to be surreal that Wild is at this juncture in his playing career and it’s something he doesn’t plan to let go of any time soon.
“It is definitely an awesome feeling coming back, and through my entire football journey to be able to come back home is a good feeling,” Wild said, according to Kaboly. “I grew up less than 10 minutes away, so it is hard not to be a fan.”