For Cameron Heyward, it was a little girl who approached him to autograph a program.
To Alejandro Villanueva, what stands out about the Pittsburgh Steelers’ annual Friday Night Lights practice is the ride on the caravan of buses weaving through Latrobe.
“It’s cool to sort of drive around in the buses to load up and get to the stadium and see the houses and see how much they love the Steelers,” said Villanueva, who Friday will be taking part in his sixth practice at Latrobe Memorial Stadium.
The yearly tradition falls on the second Friday of Steelers training camp, when the players, coaches and staff leave the Saint Vincent campus for the 2½-mile drive down Route 981 to the Latrobe high school stadium.
Typically, the stadium is full, the practice is intense (coach Mike Tomlin often likes to feature popular drills such as goal-line or backs-on-‘backers) and the atmosphere is festive.
“Always an awesome atmosphere,” Tomlin said. “We always enjoy our relationship with this community, and we’re looking forward to working under the lights. It always is an energy-charged environment.”
Heyward said the interactions with fans are more plentiful for this practice than the dozen-plus on Chuck Noll Field each year.
“To spend that time and be able to see mostly everyone, I respond to that,” Heyward said. “A couple of years ago, I got to meet a little girl who came with a program. It just touched my heart to be able to meet those kids. You never know who you are going to affect and who you are going to see, but it’s a great opportunity.”
Very cool scene here at Steelers camp in Latrobe, Pa. Friday night lights practice. Maybe 15,000 here tonight. pic.twitter.com/XozYHotn0C
— Scott Van Pelt (@notthefakeSVP) August 5, 2016
All proceeds from ticket sales benefit the Greater Latrobe athletic department. Practice typically runs from 7-9 p.m., with gates opening at 5 p.m. SteelersFest will precede the practice, and a fireworks display will follow it.
“It’s a cool thing, familiar faces, the relationships,” Tomlin said. “It’s good to be able to ante up and kick in and help them in some way.”