When it comes to sports, everybody likes to side with a winner, and the Pittsburgh Steelers knew that they were doing that when they elected to join forces with wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, making him their second-round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Smith-Schuster, just 20 years old at that time and having declared for the draft as a true junior, had experienced the opportunity to compete for championships on a regular basis during his high school and college careers, so not even making the postseason this past season in Pittsburgh was hard on him.
“That’s tough, because growing up as a kid, I was always on a team where we always competed for the championship”, he said during an appearance on NFL Network yesterday. “I went to Long Beach Poly and we always competed, always made the playoffs. I went to USC and we competed for Rose Bowls and championships and bowl games”.
“Coming to the Steelers, it’s a historic franchise. Everybody knows, the Steelers have to make it. It’s just a thing that has to be done. Last year making it, going to the second round, and this year not making it, we really took it for granted”.
In his first season in Pittsburgh in 2017, the Steelers went 13-3 in the regular season, which was one of the best regular seasons that they had ever had. They earned their first postseason bye since 2010, but ultimately went one-and-done, losing in the divisional round.
The following season, his second in the league, the team stumbled out of the gate and then toward the approach of the finish line, sandwiched in between a six-game winning streak. Losing four of the final six games proved to be just enough of a cushion to lose so that their 9-6-1 record would not be enough to make it back into the playoffs.
But Smith-Schuster isn’t worried, and despite the drama surrounding the team, he is urging fans to stick with them and stay the course because they are going to turn things around. The 22-year-old is quickly becoming an ambassador and liaison in addition to his on-field responsibilities.
“And for Steelers fans out there, just stay the course, stay positive”, he said. “We’re gonna get back on track and we’re gonna get the right way”.
Should the team actually manage to get back on track, it will have much to do with him as he explodes into his third season. Coming off a 111-catch, 1426-yard, seven-touchdown sophomore campaign, an even bigger role could be in store for him in 2019.