No matter how eagerly we turn to our sources of entertainment as a means of escapism, whether it be football or video games or music, removing ourselves from our daily lives, there always seems to be a way for reality to creep back in and slap you in the face, as if to remind you that the real world never actually pauses.
The Pittsburgh Steelers got that wakeup call approaching a year ago when they suddenly lost one of their own. They may not have the fortune to be able to hold their training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe this year, where former wide receivers coach Darryl Drake passed on in the night, but his presence has never left the team.
Only first hired by the team in 2018 in order to fill the shoes of Richard Mann, who retired after a very long career, Drake nevertheless managed to make a remarkable impact on his players and fellow coaches, and the rest of the organization, during his year-and-a-half-long employ.
And perhaps his impact was felt the strongest on Diontae Johnson, the last wide receiver he would ever have a hand in drafting, who believed in the kid from Toledo so much that he pretty much acknowledged that he would’ve jumped at the chance of taking him in the first round if it were his decision.
“We still remember him every day. He’s still with us”, Johnson told reporters earlier this week. “I remember the things he used to tell us each and every day; ‘shut out the noise’. When we were getting a lot of stuff when we started off the season like 0-4 last year—we continue to keep that with us each and every day this year”.
“He meant a lot to us. Like I said before, you don’t see those type of guys, come across that type of guy like that”, he continued. “The impact he had on us was so big. There was just so much love from him every day. He had a different type of bond with each and every one of us. Whenever we had problems or whatever, we could go to him about anything. He taught me a lot. Although I didn’t have that much time with him, he taught me a lot of stuff that I can add to my game and just about life in general”.
During his rookie season, Johnson led all NFL rookies in receptions with 59, also leading the team in that statistic and with his five receiving touchdowns, while finishing second on the team with 680 receiving yards.
He did this while working with two inexperienced quarterbacks under adverse conditions, including injuries of his own. It was a bumpy ride through his rookie season, but he’s ready to take his game to the next level with Ben Roethlisberger in his second year, and to continue to prove that Drake’s belief in his abilities was well-founded.