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'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Former U.S. Olympic skier Jeremy Bloom has the Steelers right where he wants them.

He's finally healthy and focused on football. Sure, he's a long shot to make the Steelers, but the challenge of competing for an NFL job is a dream come true for someone who already has attained one of his lifetime goals.

"My goal was to ski in the Olympics and play in the NFL since I was 8 years old," said Bloom, who competed in moguls competitions during the 2002 and 2006 Winter Olympics and was a fifth-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2006 draft. "I have three world (skiing) championships on my desk at home and (competed) two Olympics. I'm blessed to have those, but I felt like I was ready for a big challenge. I knew that the NFL would do that."

Bloom is accustomed to overcoming adversity. He'll have to at just 5 feet 9, 180 pounds. He's hoping to catch on as a receiver/kick returner.

At age 15, he became the youngest male freestyle skier to make the U.S. ski team. A two-sport star, he won a gold medal at the 2003 World Skiing Championships a month after receiving freshman All-American football honors at Colorado.

Bloom became ineligible to play college football in 2004 when the NCAA ruled he accepted endorsements to support his skiing career.

After being drafted by the Eagles, Bloom suffered a hamstring injury, sat out the 2006 season and was released in 2007 without appearing in a game.

The Steelers signed him prior to their playoff game against Jacksonville last season but drafted a receiver, Limas Sweed, in the second round.

Still, following a morning practice yesterday at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Bloom sounded upbeat about his chances.

"That's the beauty of the NFL. That's why I'm here -- for the challenge," said Bloom, 26. "As an athlete, that's what I love. I love that challenge. I love that competition. To feel that burn inside of you like, 'This guy might beat me,' you get that every day in the NFL."

Bloom is well aware that the Opening Ceremonies for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing is Aug. 8 -- the same day the Steelers play their first preseason game against the Eagles at Heinz Field.

"It was a tremendous honor for me to be a U.S. Olympian," said Bloom, who finished sixth in the moguls at the 2006 Winter Olympics and placed ninth in the moguls at the 2002 Games. "Those two years in 2002 and 2006, to represent your country and wear the flag, I don't think there's too many bigger honors that come with athletics. "I'll definitely watch this year. I'll be a fan. That's the beautiful thing about the Olympics. For the most part, it's athletes who really do love the sport. It's not for the money, not for the fame but for the simplistic beauty of playing the game. That's their Super Bowl. That's the championship right there every four years."

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