Though he may not be on the 53-man roster, Ryan Shazier remains one of the biggest influences and personalities in the locker room for the Pittsburgh Steelers, despite the fact that the last time that he put on pads was exactly one year ago to the day.
The 2014 first-round draft pick was the very rare day-one starter for a Steelers team on the defensive side of the ball, and he developed into a Pro Bowler, one of the most dynamic defenders in the NFL, and particularly at the linebacker position.
In the year since his injury, however, he has been an even greater source of inspiration than he was on the field as an entire national, even international, community has followed his progress as he seeks to return to the field after suffering a severe spinal injury.
“Ryan is a special guy. I don’t know if I can give what we witnessed a just due by talking about it”, Head Coach Mike Tomlin said earlier today in a visibly emotional state when he was asked to address the anniversary of Shazier’s injury in a primetime game against the Cincinnati Bengals a year ago.
“I think to be around him every day, to witness it is a special thing”, he went on. “He’s a special guy. He inspires us. He continues to inspire us. And I just appreciate that he allows us to be as close as we are to his journey. His journey is ongoing, so we’re going to continue to support him and continue to learn from him”.
A year ago today, Shazier was experiencing paralysis in his lower extremities. He couldn’t move his legs in the immediate aftermath of his injury. But just recently he reached yet another key ‘first down’ on his road back to his old self as he was able to jog for the first time since his injury.
Over the course of the past year, the linebacker has displayed a delicate balance of preserving his privacy and sharing his story, and most importantly making sure to keep his story his own, trying to use it to influence and inspire others, particularly those who may be going through similar circumstances.
But he still has a day job, you know. He may not be on the field, but he is still on the team on the Physically Unable to Perform List. He still attends the meetings and helps his teammates prepare for games, fires them up beforehand, and provides insights and encouragement during them.
Regardless of whether he ever makes it back onto the field, it’s fair to say that Shazier has had a tremendous impact on people in just the past year alone, nevermind what he was able to accomplish during his playing career.