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Steelers' Adams has much to prove

| Sunday, May 6, 2012, 12:30 a.m.
Steelers second-round pick offensive tackle Mike Adams works at rookie camp on the South Side May 5, 2012.
Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Steelers second-round pick offensive tackle Mike Adams works at rookie camp on the South Side May 5, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

The body looks ready-made to repel NFL pass rushers, but it isn't the only reason why the Steelers assumed the risk that came with drafting Ohio State offensive tackle Mike Adams.

Watch his face break into a grin at the mention of a struggling high school freshman he once mentored, and it offers a glimpse into the kind of character that the Steelers are gambling will ultimately prevail.

“Emmanuel Leath,” Adams said Friday after his first Steelers practice. “Now he's working with kids, and to be able to make an impact in a young man's life like that is special to me.”

Rookie minicamp concludes today at the team's South Side facility, and five practices — in shorts, no less — won't change Adams' profile as the player with the most upside and baggage in the Steelers' draft class.

The 6-foot-7, 323-pound Adams, perhaps not coincidentally, is rooming with first-round pick David DeCastro. The two became friends during pre-draft training in Arizona, but they also offer a study in contrast.

DeCastro, a guard, was considered one of the safest picks in the draft because of what he did on the field at Stanford — and what he didn't do away from it. Adams, meanwhile, served a five-game suspension at the start of his senior season at Ohio State for accepting improper benefits. He also failed a drug test at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, nearly torpedoing his lifelong dream of playing for the Steelers.

“I think step one is proving myself off the field because that's where my issues have been,” said Adams, who worked at left tackle during rookie camp. “I haven't had any issues on the field. To prove myself to the people in this organization, the people in this city, that's what I'm here for.”

To understand why the Steelers picked Adams after they had taken him off their draft board, it is worth referencing a scene Jim Bauer witnessed at Dublin-Coffman High School outside of Columbus, Ohio.

One day a guidance counselor stopped Adams to thank him for all he had done with Leath, who had struggled with his grades and the adjustment to high school. The woman stands no higher than 5-2, and Adams engulfed her in a hug, showing the kind of knee bend that would later rate favorably with NFL teams.

Bauer, who heads the guidance department at Dublin-Coffman, often flashed back to that moment following the missteps that sullied Adams' reputation and damaged his draft stock.

“I said, ‘This is not the kid that I know,' and I knew him well for four years here,” Bauer said. “Just a very likeable, loving young man.”

By all accounts, Adams acted like anything but the self-entitled athlete in high school.

His status as one of the premier recruits in the country didn't preclude him from volunteering in Dublin-Coffman's guidance office. And Adams got to know his future high school football coach, Mark Crabtree, by observing him during a day of teaching.

“I've never had an eighth grader call me since then and said, ‘Hey, can I shadow you for a day?' ” Crawford said. “Mike is a really good person. He's kind to my kids; little kids love him. I just kind of looked at how people were attracted to him, not just because he was the biggest kid or the best player.”

No matter how far Adams strayed from the conscientious kid that Bauer and Crawford remember, he has not done so from his roots.

Bauer attended Adams' draft party at Eddie George Grille 27 in Columbus, the one where the latter shed tears after the Steelers made him the 56th pick of the draft.

Adams still stays in touch with Leath.

His roots also give Adams a keen understanding of what is now at stake.

Adams grew up in Farrell and, as a kid, he had Steelers sheets on his bed and a Jerome Bettis clock on the wall of his bedroom. He won't let down anybody more than himself if dubious decisions cost him his dream.

“If Mike does what he's been blessed with and he handles it the right way, the sky is the limit for him, and I mean that sincerely because I want the people out there to see what this kid is all about,” Crawford said. “The thing about it is, it's totally up to him.”

Scott Brown is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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