Roosevelt Nix’s time in Pittsburgh came to an abrupt end earlier this year. But he’s forever grateful for the chance to play for the black and gold.
“Man, I’m just truly blessed to be around some of the greatest football players ever,” he tells me in an interview last week. “To take that knowledge from Hall of Famers and apply that to my game, my rehab, my workouts, truly developing a mentality to win, a winning mentality, a winning team, a winning standard, a winning tradition. To play in front of Steelers’ Nation and all the fans and to have that love. I’m just truly grateful to be part of such a prestigious team.”
Simply making it in the NFL was a goal in itself. Nix wasn’t a shiny first round pick, someone with a clear path to the roster and staying power to remain in the league for years off his resume. He was the longest of long shots. Infamously the first player cut on Hard Knocks, falling out of the league and becoming a substitute teacher back in Ohio while waiting on an NFL call that may never come. Through that time, Nix relied on his faith and ultimate goal of doing something for others.
“At one point, I didn’t have a reason to work out. I wasn’t getting any type of love, any type of interest. I just kept applying faith and kept my relationship with God close and continued to pray and ask for guidance. I just knew that I wanted to help people and continue to put myself just for the small percentage chance of a callback. Thankfully, I was blessed to get that call.”
Pittsburgh signed him to a futures deal in January of 2015. Initially working as an inside linebacker, a week before rookie minicamp, Mike Tomlin told him there was a change of plans. He was being converted to a fullback. With Will Johnson already on the roster, Nix’s odds of making the roster seemed awfully slim.
“In my head I was like, aw shit, here we go again. I don’t know what to expect but I’m going to take it head on. I’m already here, can’t do anything about it.”
Nix proved everyone wrong with a spectacular training camp, capped off by this blocked punt in the preseason finale against the Carolina Panthers.
Roster spot cemented, Pittsburgh carried two fullbacks, him and Johnson, throughout the season with Nix’s role increasing as the year went on. Nix knows current UDFAs like him won’t have a preseason to show their value, an ugly cost of the COVID pandemic.
“All the guys who were in the same position as me. It hurts that a lot of majority of guys won’t get the proper exposure, the necessary reps to display their skillset. It’s unfortunate. I feel bad for them. I pray for those guys.”
During his Steelers’ career, he blocked for Le’Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams, and James Conner to successful seasons and though they had distinctly different run styles, Nix says his mentality never shifted regardless of who was carrying the ball.
“My job was to show up how I show up and they play how they play. I was just doing my job, complimenting them and their gameplay. I just think we had a good connection, good relationship, and those guys are my brothers forever.”
2019 was one for him to forget. He played just 35 offensive snaps, another 42 on special teams missing most of the year with a knee injury. Nix says he hurt his knee in the Week 1 opener against New England and thought he could play through it before tests revealed it was worse than initially thought. He attempted to come back by midseason but suffered another injury in his aggressive rehab. Nix played Weeks 8 and 9 before shutting things down for the season, sent to IR in mid-November.
“They didn’t even know I was hurt [Week 1], they didn’t know I was hurt. Had to do some rehab, came back, suffered a surrounding injury that wasn’t the initial injury. At that point in time, I had already been working out and I had to take it slow. [I was] trying to come back, moving too fast.”
Pittsburgh’s first offseason signing was a shocker and one that spelled the end of Nix’s time with the team. The Steelers signed Derek Watt and seeing the writing on the wall, Nix asked the team to release him.
“I asked to be released. That’s part of the game, part of the business. I was hurt so they did what they felt like they had to do. So I asked to be released to continue my career.”
But he wasn’t out of work long. The Colts scooped him up three weeks later. The pandemic hasn’t given him much of a chance to be around the team but he’s excited to work with an up-and-coming offense led by veteran QB Phillip Rivers and a top-ten run game.
“A good team, good young team, good coaches, trying to do some great things there. I’m excited. I’m truly excited.”
It’ll be a bit like his 2015 camp with the Steelers. Nix is more proven now but still holds the same chip on his shoulder, carried from his days as a roster longshot.
“They know what they’re supposed to get, but they won’t really understand it until I get there and show them.”