How does a small-town kid whose high school only has an eight-man football team make it to the NFL? It helps if you’re 6’6” and 290 pounds by the time you’re a senior. That was the start of the journey for Isaiahh Loudermilk, the pride of Howard, Kansas, who is one of the newest members of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
For those who may not know, schools and districts with smaller populations throughout the country play variations of football that field teams with fewer players. Eight-man football, as you might guess, consists of only eight players on each side of the ball at a time.
Loudermilk told Teresa Varley for Steelers.com that he never really dreamed about taking his football journey further because of this. The recruiters eventually started coming to see the physical specimen from West Elk High School.
“To come from where I come from, playing eight-man football, kind of not thinking I would get recruited seriously because of the small town, not playing tradition football”, he acknowledged. “I didn’t know how recruiting would go”.
“Everything started coming fast at first. Some small schools, junior colleges reaching out to me, telling me I had to develop more because I was playing eight-man football”, he went on. “The size was there. It was people trusting if I could switch to regular football. I was able to do that. Recruitment was hectic. It all just hit at once. It was like one offer came in and then coaches were reaching out every single day after that”.
Loudermilk ultimately chose to sign with the Wisconsin Badgers. He registered 37 tackles, 12 for loss, and eight sacks over his college career as a rotational participant. He showed enough that the Steelers were willing to trade into the fifth round last month to draft him.
“With Loudermilk’s situation, we had him graded where he would easily have been selected in the fourth round, had we not done some other things, as we talked about with Dan Moore and Buddy Johnson”, general manager Kevin Colbert said.
It’s a lot easier of a projection going from the Badgers to the Steelers than it is from West Elk’s eight-man squad to college ball. Pittsburgh believes it knows what it’s getting in Loudermilk, who is really more about the future than immediate contributions.
The team does have depth along the defensive line right now. Even before the draft, they returned seven players from last year’s 53-man roster. Spearheading that list are Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, and Tyson Alualu. Also included are Chris Wormley, Carlos Davis, Isaiah Buggs, and Henry Mondeaux.