By LaMarr Woodley, Special to Yahoo! Sports
Editor's note: LaMarr Woodley, a Michigan defensive end selected in the NFL draft by the Steelers to play linebacker, will share his introduction to the league with Yahoo! Sports through periodic diary entries leading up to the 2007 regular season.
It's been a long few weeks. I've gone through the NFL draft, the first minicamp of my career, and I'm just trying to get myself healthy and get ready for training camp. I'm anxious to get started. This has been the longest process of my life. You would think something like this is going to be easy, but it really isn't.
It all started on draft day when my cell phone was cutting off all day. I tried to get it fixed in the morning, but it kept shutting off. So I was really nervous, looking at my phone during the whole draft, wondering if it was still on and waiting for a team to call. When the 46th pick came up, I really didn't think the Pittsburgh Steelers were going to take me, but then my phone rang and I recognized the Pittsburgh area code.
Someone on the phone asked, "LaMarr Woodley, how would you feel about coming to Pittsburgh?" I don't even know who it was. Even now, I still have no idea. A name was given, but I didn't hear it. Pretty soon, I was talking on the phone with coach after coach after coach. I don't even know all the people I was talking to. I had my family all cheering and some people were running after me, but I was waving them away because I was talking to the coaches. It was kind of crazy.
After a while, I went out and got a chance to talk to my family. We all hugged and laughed. Then my brother, Tony Tatum, from Atlanta played a highlight video he had made for me that said I was his hero. My brother is a backup singer on tour with R&B artist Keith Sweat, and he was singing on the video. It was a very touching moment.
That night, I went to bed and slept well. I was tired, and the long wait was over.
In the days after the draft, I went to the YMCA in Saginaw, Mich., every day and worked out. I want to drop about 12 pounds and get down to 260. The Steelers sent the defensive playbook out to me, too. I really didn't understand it at first, coming from a defensive end standpoint. I'm moving to linebacker and was looking at it from that viewpoint, so I wasn't getting it at first. But I will be working hard on that all summer.
I also went to my high school a few days after the draft – Saginaw High School – and spoke to some students about the experience. There were a lot of football players there. I just talked to them about how to handle yourself on and off the field and how to keep your reputation clean.
You can never change where you're from. When you come from a place like Saginaw, you play with heart. And you can never teach heart. I was telling them that and trying to encourage them. So much is going on in the city where young kids don't believe in themselves anymore. So I want to go back there and be a positive role model.
Last week, I drove to Pittsburgh in what turned out to an interesting trip. It was a long drive, like 4frac12; to five hours, but the more confounding aspect of the trip was the toll booths, which I did not anticipate. I got to the first one, and I didn't really have any money on me. I asked if they took a debit card and they said they could only take cash or check. The toll was $7.50, but I only had like four dollars in my pocket. The next thing you know, I'm trying to scrape together another $3.50 in change. Thankfully, I had a thing filled with some coins. Then I came to another toll booth, and the lady told me it was another $3. I couldn't believe it. I asked again if they would take debit. I thought maybe she would feel sorry for me and let me go through. She was like, "Nope, cash or a check." So I went back to the coins and counted out $3. This went on for three more toll booths.
After that, I headed for my financial advisor Marty Blaze's house when I got to Pittsburgh. I knew his street and address, so I entered it into the navigation system in my car. The problem was he actually lives in another little city near Pittsburgh. So I ended up on the right street but in the wrong city, outside of some stranger's house. So I call Marty and I was like "Man, I'm outside your house." And Marty was like, "I don't see you." He's telling me to pull around the corner and park. When we figured it out, I realized I was like 20 miles away from where I needed to be.
As for minicamp, I was one of the first ones here, along with some of the offensive linemen. I was excited to get going. When I got out there, I was trying to remember everything in my head. I realized how tough it was going to be to move to linebacker. I remembered some of the plays, but I was pretty much just out there running around and doing what I could. I was rusty in the linebacker drills. I even fell down at one point.
It's like a whole new world on the field. I'm reading offenses, learning new words and trying to remember all the plays. I'm memorizing it pretty well, but I think that's why I've been out there playing slow. I'm thinking all the time and I think that's why the speed of the game feels faster than it really is. If you come in with the knowledge, it will slow down. But the first practice was definitely eye-opening.
Then I hurt my hamstring on the first day of minicamp. I'm sitting there on the sidelines thinking, "Man, these dudes probably think I'm soft and the coaches are probably disappointed." I didn't know if people thought I might have been faking it. All this stuff was running through my head, and I just wanted to push myself to go back out there again even though I was hurt. I knew if I did that I could hurt it a lot worse, and I didn't want to be sitting for weeks trying to heal. So I sat out and iced it up even though I really didn't want to. Basically, I just spent the first three days of camp asking questions and going through mental reps in my head.
I can see that I'm going to really like my coaches and being here. Coach Mike Tomlin is really laid back. You can really talk to him. Some other coaches, it can take time to get comfortable with them. But I think he's going to be really cool. I'm just trying to get to know all of them and let them know me.
Now I've got my goals ahead of me. I want to get this hamstring healed. Then I want to lose that weight and get the plays down. I'll have to go look for a place to live in Pittsburgh. Right now I'm in a temporary apartment that was set up by the team. I'm not going to go crazy. I'll just look at a few places and see what it's like. It's not like I'm a first-round pick and I have all of this money to spend. I'm smart with my money. I'm going to find a place that's affordable for me.
What I know for sure is I'm staying in Pittsburgh right up through training camp. That's the only way I'm going to get better. There is no time for a rookie to take a vacation. I have the rest of my career to think about things like that. Right now, it's time to focus and work my way to the top of the position. I know I have the heart. Now I just have to work to catch up with everything else.