For the first time in 18 seasons next fall, the Pittsburgh Steelers will be without their two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Respected leaguewide for his toughness and ability to make throws while 300-pound defenders clung to his legs, he takes with him a gargantuan-size hole in the leadership department. He’s been to the mountain top that is holding a Lombardi Trophy on several occasions, and with that comes a bevy of game experiences that is going to be very difficult to replace. Pro Bowl running back Najee Harris has been on record saying he wants to take on more of a vocal role now that #7 is gone, and we all know what Cam Heyward and T.J. Watt are going to bring to the table.
But according to Memphis Tigers Head Coach Ryan Silverfield, he feels Calvin Austin III, his dynamic wide receiver that the team selected in the fourth round a few weeks back, has plenty to offer in the leadership department.
“We talked about an undersized young man that came here as a walk-on and improved himself so that showed his ability to outwork everybody,” Silverfield said to Steelers team reporter Missi Matthews on the Steelers Official YouTube Channel. “That’s leadership. I go back to the Senior Bowl where there’s a play where they had him on the backside, actually digging out a 300-pound defensive end. He’s willing to stick his face in there, and he’s willing to lead, willing to do all those things.”
The diminutive Austin, listed at 5-foot-8 and 170 pounds, boasts plenty of speed, as evidenced by his 4.32 40-time at the NFL Combine. He played football with his older cousins growing up, so he learned from an early age how to play with larger players and how to adapt, despite his small stature. He put this all on full display the pasts several seasons with the Tigers, as he made First-Team All-AAC honors the past two seasons, posting over 1,000 yards in each. He has a “me against the world” mentality that seems to be infectious with his teammates, and has definitive leadership traits that a locker room can rally around.
On a young team in a hard-nosed city, Austin will be a welcome addition to not only the team, but also the fanbase, who’s grown accustomed to “diva” qualities from the team’s wide receivers in recent memory.
“You guys gotta understand, he’s a Memphis kid. His dad’s a police officer here in town, so he’s got that blue-collar, very similar to Pittsburgh, and that mentality to go out there and work every single day to earn what he needs to.”