Hunger is probably a good work around which to build a conversation about Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier and the process through which he is attempting to rebuild his strength and to walk again, functioning as an able-bodied person after suffering a spinal injury on the field.
Shazier hungers every day striving to get better, making progress as the calendar ticks forward. His teammates hunger to perform for him in his absence on the field. And everybody, seemingly, hungers to hear the updates about his progress, limited as they may have come, as per his wishes.
But the 25-year-old provided a bit of a glimpse into his journey and his ambitions yesterday as he visited his teammates in practice for the first time since his injury, being transported via wheelchair. He said via a social media post represented a ‘first down’ in his recovery, the end goal he described as a ‘touchdown’. He knows one day, no matter far down the road, he will reach the end zone.
Shazier’s ability to return with his teammates was as big for himself as it was for those around him. more than one Steelers defender called him their best friend, which is pretty good, I would think. The Ohio State alum has left an indelible mark on those around him, which is made obvious by hearing them speak of him.
Vince Williams, one of those who counts Shazier as his best friend, and who Tweeted at length about the origins and development of their friendship on Tuesday night, told the team’s website they he is “just happy for him”, describing his first return to the practice sidelines as “the next step for him”.
“I am happy to see the improvement”, he continued. “Seeing him get back around football. It’s good to get those breaks and be around familiar faces again”. Williams added that “he gets stronger and stronger” with each time he sees his teammate, and that “his spirit is definitely starting to pick up more and more”.
Anthony Chickillo, another linebacker, said that their mack linebacker is “so special to us. He is our brother, he is our friend. We love that guy to death. It’s motivating to have him out there”. But he also sees how much Shazier wants to be working with them as well.
“He wants to be out there with us. That is all that is on his mind. When you see him, you know how much he loves football and wants to be out there for us. You just want to go hard for him. You just want to win for him”.
As I talked about yesterday, the Steelers defense had big ambitions for what they would able to achieve with Shazier as the nucleus. For now, at least temporarily, the ambitions have remained the same, but it has become not what they will do with him, but rather for him, to paraphrase Greg Bishop’s Sports Illustrated article.