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Valley's Clemons stays grounded

| Sunday, May 27, 2012, 12:30 a.m.
Valley and Colorado graduate Toney Clemons remains humble as he competes for a roster spot with the Steelers.
Steelers seventh round pick Toney Clemons streches during rookie camp on the South Side May 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
The Steelers selected Valley graduate Toney Clemons in the seventh round of the NFL Draft. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

It's been one month since Toney Clemons joined the Steelers' congregation, a local kid with big dreams primed to make the most of an opportunity with his hometown team.

On April 28, he was introduced to Steeler Nation, a promising young receiver with a wide smile, thoughtful personality and suddenly, one foot in the NFL door.

In a matter of hours that day, he gained more than 1,000 Twitter followers, his cell phone flooded with texts and calls, his popularity spiked.

In the weeks that followed, Clemons signed a contract, attended rookie camp and organized team activities and learned he'll wear No. 11 if he makes the team.

One would think the whirlwind was life-changing for the Valley graduate.

“Not at all,” Clemons said. “I still shop at Family Dollar, go to $5 movies on Tuesdays and use my Sheetz gas card. I went into Finish Line at the (Pittsburgh) Mills the other day and someone asked me why I was shopping at the mall and not at my mansion. My mansion? It's crazy. It doesn't work like that. When you grow up a certain way, you don't change. You don't forget where you came from.

“I am too down to earth to hang out on Cloud 9.”

By all accounts, Clemons, who refers to his team workouts as a 9-to-5 job, was impressive at rookie camp and OTAs, where the 6-foot-2, 210-pounder caught passes and showed his speed.

Still, the seventh-round pick out of Colorado knows nothing is guaranteed and remains humble as he studies the playbook and readies for training camp.

“Nothing has changed,” said Clemons' mother, Tonie. “He never had a car, and now he's borrowing a car from a friend to free up my car to get to practice.

“He is staying (in a North Side apartment) so he doesn't have to commute. He's still broke.”

Clemons' four-year contract is worth $2.149 million, with a $49,824 signing bonus.

His mother said he hasn't received a dime yet, although the bonus is guaranteed.

What's been priceless, Tonie said, is the impact her son has made by simply getting drafted by the Steelers.

“The only change I do see is not so much with Toney but the community and surrounding areas,” she said.

“People from New Kensington, Burrell, Tarentum, all over, are so excited and happy for him. Little kids are concentrating and doing well in school. They have a newfound energy — they see what Toney has gone through, living in the 'hood and the obstacles he's had to overcome. They say, ‘If he can do it, maybe I can, too.' ”

Clemons is aware of his favorable impact.

“It makes me feel amazing to know that I am a walking, talking, breathing example,” he said. “Kids can relate to the struggle. These are kids who came from the same neighborhoods and streets and are playing football in the same public housing yards that I did growing up.”

Kiski Area and Pitt grad Scott McKillop was selected in the 2009 draft by the San Francisco 49ers. A linebacker, McKillop is now trying to build a career with the Buffalo Bills.

McKillop has been through the rookie process and knows how difficult it can be.

“If I was to give him any advice football-wise, it would be to do everything you possibly can to help the team out, no matter what it is,” McKillop said.

“Financially, I would tell him to not be afraid to say no to anyone and keep his surrounding friends and family small. And seeing as he was a late-round draft pick like myself, I would tell him to be ready to work his butt off on special teams.”

Veteran players seem to have taken a liking to Clemons.

“You watch guys like Troy (Polamalu), James Farrior and Antonio (Brown) work, and you learn pretty quickly that there are no off days,” Clemons said. “There's a whole mentality you have to have. The vet QBs, Ben (Roethlisberger), Charlie Batch, Byron (Leftwich) are always quick to show you what you could have done better or what you can improve on. (Jerricho) Cotchery taught me you can never catch enough passes in practice or after practice.

“You can never be too polished. You never arrive at this level.”

Clemons said he hasn't been pushed around. His teammates have welcomed him.

“It's not like that,” Clemons said. “You can't single guys out. You're a Steeler. They don't care what year you are.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-224-2696 or bbeckner@tribweb.com.

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