Kevin Gorman: Dravon Askew-Henry hopes to finally bring Aliquippa attitude to Steelers
As a kid from Aliquippa, Dravon Askew-Henry put Ty Law and Darrelle Revis on a pedestal. As an aspiring NFL player, he put them on speed dial, picking their brains before his first training camp.
The words of wisdom they offered — bring that Aliquippa attitude — ring in the ears of the rookie safety, who is attempting to become the first Quip to ever play for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“I look up to them guys. They set the bar high for a kid like me from Aliquippa,” Askew-Henry said. “I was in the stands watching them play high school football. I always wanted to grow up and be like that. Ty Law going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is all the motivation that I need.”
Askew-Henry was all smiles Saturday at Saint Vincent College, thinking about watching Law’s enshrinement speech and seeing his bronze bust unveiled later that night in Canton, Ohio. Then Askew-Henry realized he would be in team meetings at the same time, chasing his own dream of playing professional football.
Where Askew-Henry has templates to follow, he’s also aware of his long odds to make the NFL as undrafted free-agent safety out of West Virginia. The Steelers, however, have a number of undrafted players on their two-deep from left guard Ramon Foster and fullback Roosevelt Nix to cornerback Mike Hilton and backup safety Jordan Dangerfield.
What they’ve never had is an Aliquippa product.
As if it isn’t mind-blowing enough that the Quips have had 11 players in the NFL, imagine coming from a community that has produced three Pro Football Hall of Famers — Law joining Mike Ditka and Tony Dorsett, an Aliquippa native who attended Hopewell. And Aliquippa soon could have a fourth in Revis, who is expected to be a first-ballot pick when he becomes eligible in 2023.
“Shout-out to Ty Law, he’s one of the greatest,” Askew-Henry said. “Coming from ‘Quip, I feel like we just breed differently there. I’ve definitely still got a chip on my shoulder and just about all the odds and where this road is going to take me, I don’t look forward. I live for today, for this moment. …
“I just focus on getting better every day.”
Askew-Henry is learning how to go from hotshot to long shot by trying to make every moment count. What’s new for the 6-foot, 202-pounder is being relegated to the second- and third-string defense and playing on special teams units after setting a West Virginia record for career starts (51).
“I don’t know the exact number,” Askew-Henry said, “but every game.”
To clarify, I asked if he meant every game of his college career.
“Of my life,” Askew-Henry said, with a laugh. “For real, though. … I never really sat out, so sitting back and watching everything is kind of different but I’ve got to adjust.”
At Aliquippa, Askew-Henry was a four-year star who rushed for 5,454 yards despite sharing carries with a 4,000-yard rusher in Terry Swanson, who starred at Toledo and was in training camp with the Houston Texans last summer.
At West Virginia, Askew-Henry was a freshman All-American and led the team in total snaps as a sophomore before tearing his ACL in preseason camp going into his junior season. Where Askew-Henry once expected to join the ranks of Quips’ first-round draft picks in Law, Revis, Ditka, Sean Gilbert and Jon Baldwin, he had to battle to get back into the starting lineup.
“I came in and started as a freshman and expected to be three-and-out but, unfortunately, it didn’t go that way,” said Askew-Henry, who earned his degree in communications and counseling/sociology. “It was taken away from me. I hadn’t missed a game, a down, a series since I’ve been playing football — and I started at age 4 — so that was my first real injury.
“That was a big thing for life after football. I had to grow from a boy to a man around that time. I really had to dig deep with all the extra work I had to put in just to get back to that starting position and leadership role.”
Askew-Henry is attempting to make the most of every opportunity, and caught the attention of Steelers coaches Friday night by intercepting a Devlin Hodges pass intended for James Washington in practice at Latrobe Memorial Stadium.
Askew-Henry also believes his Aliquippa background gives him an advantage, from his early days of playing tackle football on the playground pebbles with no shoes on to the professional advice he received from a man who now owns a gold jacket.
“I’ve got all the tools in my corner,” Askew-Henry said. “These are first-round picks, Pro Bowlers, (defensive) MVPs and, now, Hall of Famers. I feel like I’ve got to carry that tradition.
“I’m just trying to get the tradition going and I’m proud to be playing here in my hometown. … I’m hungry. I’m going to continue to do what I’ve got to do every day to prove that I belong here and I deserve to be here.”
Askew-Henry carries that tradition like a boulder on his shoulders, hoping the kid who went from hotshot to long shot can finally bring that Aliquippa attitude to the Steelers.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .