Steelers' Shazier comes with an edge

Ralph N. Paulk
| Friday, May 9, 2014, 8:57 p.m.

Even at 5 years old, Ryan Shazier possessed the patience and discipline to keep bullies at bay by taking the high road.

The Steelers' first-round pick absorbed myriad verbal jabs after being diagnosed with alopecia, an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss.

“When I was younger, it was kind of difficult,” Shazier said Friday at the Steelers' South Side practice facility. “I was probably the only kid walking around with a bald head. It was kind of tough because kids are mean and are going to pick on you and say things that will hurt your feelings.

“I just embraced it. I feel like if you didn't like me for who I am, then there's a problem with you.

“I feel like it's my signature now. I love having alopecia. I feel like having a bald head actually saves me a lot of money.”

If nothing else, Shazier developed a sharp competitive edge. Yet he relied more on smarts than muscle while developing his skills at Plantation High School in South Florida.

His father, Vernon Shazier, contends his son developed the mental toughness to become an All-American linebacker at Ohio State, in part, because of his childhood challenges.

“Ryan has an indescribable passion for the game,” said the elder Shazier, who serves as team chaplain for the Miami Dolphins. “He was bred and trained to be an assassin on the football field.”

Shazier's toughness, coupled with unfathomable speed for a linebacker, made him a seemingly irresistible pick for a Steelers team with holes to fill at defensive line and cornerback. The Steelers passed on three projected first-round linemen — Louis Nix of Notre Dame, Ra'Shede Hageman of Minnesota and Timmy Jernigan of Florida State — all of whom slipped to Day 2 of the NFL Draft.

Jim Tressel, who recruited Shazier at Ohio State, told the Tribune-Review that Shazier is what the Steelers need to bounce back from consecutive 8-8, nonplayoff seasons.

“Without question, everyone knew that Ryan had extraordinary football talent,” said Tressel, who is expected to become president at Youngstown State on Monday. “What made him so special and a can't-miss difference-maker was his selflessness and passion.

“We felt he was the type of person that would lead us to excellence on and off the field. And he did just that.”

Shazier, who led the Buckeyes in tackles the past two seasons, said he was somewhat surprised the Steelers nabbed him midway through the first round. The NFL Advisory Draft Board told him he probably would last until the middle of the second round, if not later.

“You never know who's going to draft you,” Shazier said. “My dad said people were hinting that the Cowboys were going to draft me.

“The whole time, I felt like I was a first-round pick. I knew at any day the tape was going to show it all, and I felt like I put up enough on tape for the coaches to believe in me.

“It was amazing to see the 412 area code on my cell phone. It's amazing to know I'll be here for the rest of my life.”

Shazier's father figured his son was headed to Dallas.

“It was a strange ordeal on Thursday night,” Vernon Shazier said. “We were expecting Dallas or Arizona to take him, so it did catch us off guard when Pittsburgh drafted him.”

Shazier's pro day performance left a lasting impression with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert.

His lateral pursuit and 4.36-second clocking in the 40-yard dash thrust him atop the team's draft board.

The Steelers were impressed with how Shazier handled himself in Columbus, Ohio. He remained committed to the program even after Tressel was forced to resign in May 2011 amid a scandal that resulted in NCAA sanctions, preventing the undefeated 2012 Buckeyes from playing for the national championship.

“There's no doubt that Tressel is one of the main reasons why he went to Ohio State,” Vernon Shazier said. “We talked to a lot of people at the other schools he was considering, and at each visit we asked the same question: ‘What makes your university unique.' They all said something different. But at Ohio State, everyone said Tressel made Ohio State unique, and that was important to us.

“We wanted to send our son to a coach who would help him transition into adulthood. Now we're hearing a lot of the same things about Mike Tomlin that we heard about Tressel. It seems as if everyone has a lot of respect for how he conducts business and his relationship with the players.”

Tomlin, of course, is hoping Shazier can be as productive for the Steelers as he was with the Buckeyes.

“He's a football junkie,” Tomlin said. “We're excited about getting started and seeing what he can do for us.”

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.

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