coach, as a pastor, as a motivational speaker,
as the team chaplain for the Miami Dolphins
and as a parent.
“I wanted to make sure [Ryan] did what he
needed to do so that he wouldn’t become part
of that statistic,” Vernon Shazier said.
Shawn Shazier did, too.
“I feel like my dad and my mom are my
two best friends,” Shazier says.
Eventually, he became an All-State and
then an All-Big Ten linebacker. He also grew
into the type of person willing to change his
college number for a game to honor a friend
from Plantation High School who died of
muscular dystrophy and again to recognize
a teammate lost for the season to injury. At
Ohio State, he once sought permission to
return home with a teammate for the funeral
of that player’s father.
“Pure ideas and caring in its pure form,”
is how OSU Head Coach Urban Meyer once
summed up Shazier to Cleveland.com.
The Steelers recognized commitment and
character — intangible qualities they seek out
— in repeated interviews with Shazier after
he declared himself eligible for the NFL Draft
following his junior season at Ohio State.
“Everybody liked him,” General Manager
Kevin Colbert says.
They’d already seen much of what they
needed to see in Shazier’s game two years previously, while evaluating Ohio State prospects
for the 2012 draft.
“He used to jump off the film when he was
a freshman, honestly,” Colbert says.
At 6-foot- 1 and 237 pounds, Shazier is
lighter than a traditional NFL inside linebacker. But his 4. 36 speed in the 40-yard dash
makes him the type of player NFL teams
covet. He can cover pass receivers as well as
tackle running backs — and thus doesn’t have
to come off the field in passing situations.
“Football has become a very lateral, speed-
based game offensively,” Colbert explains. “It’s
a perimeter game, a down-field game, so we
need people [who] can defend that. That was
one thing Ryan did very well in college.”
Upon drafting Shazier, the Steelers im-
mediately installed him at inside linebacker
next to veteran Lawrence Timmons on the
first-team defense. That high-pressure outpost
is where he lined up for the first snap of the
off-season’s first Organized Team Activity — a
testament to the impressive skill set of Shazier,
and a rare nod for a rookie trying to find his
way in coordinator Dick LeBeau’s defense.
It’s almost unprecedented for Game 1 —
and almost unimaginable from day one. But
Shazier, when healthy, has been there ever
“I like his demeanor more than anything,”
Mike Tomlin assesses. “We put him in some
competitive situations and just from a de-
meanor standpoint he’s wired in, he’s dialed in.
“It looks like he’s wired right for the job.”
NFL locker rooms being what they are,
Shazier still is taking heat occasionally for
what he doesn’t have on top of his head. As he
did when he was 5, Shazier is taking it all in
“You know guys crack around,” he says.
“I tell ’em, ‘The only thing you can crack on
me is I’m bald ’cause I look better than all [of
34 | OCTOBER 2014 | pittsburghmagazine.com/sports
“We put him in some
and just from a
he’s wired in.”
STEELERS COACH MIKE TOMLIN