Ryan Switzer: Steelers WRs were sons Darryl Drake never had | TribLIVE.com

Ryan Switzer: Steelers WRs were sons Darryl Drake never had

Joe Rutter

Darryl Drake was blessed to have three daughters with wife Sheila. What he lacked in male offspring, he made up for with the wide receivers he coached during his lengthy NFL and college career.

That was especially true during Drake’s 18-month tenure with the Pittsburgh Steelers, when he touched the lives of Ryan Switzer and the other receivers on the roster.

A day after Drake died unexpectedly Sunday at age 62, Switzer posted on social media a picture taken early in training camp. In the photo, the receivers are mugging for the camera, and Drake is proudly standing in the middle of his position group following suit.

“Coach Drake always called us his sons,” Switzer said Thursday morning when he spoke publicly for the first time since Drake’s death.

Switzer paused as he tried to regain his composure.

“He didn’t have any boys,” Switzer said, tears welling in his eyes. “He always called us his sons.”

Switzer knew Drake for barely a calendar year, but his voice cracked with emotion, and Switzer was visibly upset as he talked about the impact Drake made on his life.

“It’s immeasurable,” Switzer said. “I can’t really say much more about the relationship that we had.”

Then, he did, the words pouring out of Switzer as he tried to put what Drake meant to the Steelers players into proper context. He provided words other receivers such as JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington didn’t yet feel comfortable sharing.

“Coach Drake, beyond a shadow of a doubt, was that special person,” Switzer said. “The outpouring of love and support and kind words he’s gotten from everyone he came into contact with, I didn’t understand the amount of people he reached and touched until I saw it.

“It didn’t surprise me because I knew the man for little more than a year, and he taught me more in that time and meant more to me in that time than some people I’ve known my entire life.”

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, speaking for the first time Thursday about Drake, echoed those sentiments.

“I know he was an amazing football coach, but he was an even better man, a better husband, better father, and a better man of God than he was a football coach,” Roethlisberger said. “What he brought to this team and to me and our relationship together is truly something that can be never replicated. He will be very dearly missed, but we know he will be with us and that he’s in a better place.”

Switzer didn’t join the Steelers until late August, when he was acquired in a trade with the Oakland Raiders. He came aboard less than two weeks before the season opener, but Switzer said Drake made an immediate impression.

“It wasn’t so much the things he said,” Switzer said. “For some reason, I trusted him. I’ve had a lot of turnover in my short career, and I’ve had a lot of empty and broken promises. I didn’t feel that with Drake. Never did, actually. He was trustworthy and so welcoming and so warm.”

Former and current players have spoken about how Drake helped hold the team together in the final week of the season when wide receiver Antonio Brown left the team – an action that ultimately led to his offseason trade to Oakland.

Drake did his part, Roethlisberger said, to keep last season’s drama from carrying over into training camp.

“Shut out the noise,” Roethlisberger said, reciting Drake’s frequent phrase this summer. “Everything that is not important, that is not right here, shut it out and focus on what is important, and that’s this group.”

The practice that closed training camp on Thursday was the third since Drake’s death. They will play their first game without him Saturday against Kansas City.

“It’s hard, man,” Switzer said of returning to the daily routine. “Football has been an outlet for me and whoever else plays it because it’s an escape from the real world. You get out there, and all your problems are gone. Now, we get out there and he’s not there, and it’s hard because he was everywhere.”

“It’s hard to get back to the game you love because he’s not out there telling you what to do. He’s not out there yelling. It’s hard, but it’s our profession. It’s something we have to do and something that Coach Drake would want us to do. Quite frankly, he’d be (ticked) at me right now for taking it as a hard as we are, but it’s hard.”

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers receiver Ryan Switzer catchers punts during practice Friday, July 26, 2019 at St. Vincent College.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers receiver Ryan Switzer during practice Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019 at Saint Vincent College.
Categories: Sports | Steelers
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