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NKySteeler
08-20-2008, 09:52 PM
Mendenhall Always stays Cool
By JIM WEXELL Digest Correspondent

This story begins where it could have ended, along the otherwise cozy confines of Lake Shore Drive in Chicago where Rashard Mendenhall was stopped in his tracks by two men and a gun.

Mendenhall and a female friend had parked their car — the car Mendenhall supposes was
the tip-off that he may have had some money — in a lot just south of Soldier Field.

“It’s generally not a bad area,” Mendenhall said.

It was midnight when he and the girl began walking along the Lake Michigan shoreline when two thugs brandished a gun. Mendenhall responded coolly and handed over his wallet and cell phone.

“I wasn’t really scared then,” he said. “I didn’t want to give them a reason for anything, so I cooperated. But since then, I feel myself more anxious in certain situations. It’s a scary experience.”

Mendenhall, the 21-yearold rookie first-round pick of the Steelers, thinks about the moment sometimes and shudders. “If it’s late,” he said, “and somebody’s around I’m
not really familiar with, I get kind of uneasy.”

But, on the bright side ... “I feel like it helped. I just feel like it made me more conscious and aware. I was a little naïve in who I am and just tried to do normal things. A lot of things change when you enter the NFL and people see you as Rashard Mendenhall. Then I’m not just Rashard. It makes you a little more aware.”

Whether he’s just plain Rashard or the bigtime No. 1 pick Rashard Mendenhall, he remains
humble and thoughtful. He was that way well before he fought Illini coach Ron Zook for
his older brother Walter’s right to get on the field at Illinois, and well before he was recruited out of high school as the add-on in a package deal for his brother. The gun staring him in the face hasn’t changed any of that. But he feels it helped him grow up.

“You don’t want to be innocent and naïve all the time,” he said, “or it will happen again.”
Mendenhall grew up in the affluent Chicago suburb of Skokie. His family is from the more
economically dismal South Side, where Rashard spent a lot of time. It’s where he was born and where all his cousins lived, but Rashard’s mother, Sybil, moved the kids to Skokie to give them a fighting chance.

The family stayed in Skokie until the middle of Rashard’s sophomore year at Niles West High School, when Sybil couldn’t afford Skokie any longer. She also wanted to be closer to her job at a South Side church, so she moved back alone and left her sons in the care of the school’s running backs coach, Joe Galambos. He had coached the boys since Pop Warner ball and had become a father figure to them. It’s still the place Rashard calls home.

“We grew up there, and we wanted to stay there,” Rashard said.

It had nothing to do with athletic intent. Niles West had been to the playoffs only once before Rashard arrived, and then it went four consecutive times. None of the playoff appearances lasted longer than the first round. The talent scouts came out, initially, to see Walter, a year older than Rashard.

“They didn’t know about me because I was a sophomore,” Rashard said. “He was going through the recruiting process and my mom actually told them that if they were to look at Walter, they’d have to look at me as well. They looked at me and they were like, ‘Oh! We can take him, too.’ So we were both being recruited. He was a junior, so he was going through a true recruitment, and we decided to make our decision together.”

By the time Rashard left for the University of Illinois, he was no longer the add-on.

He rushed for 1,300 yards as a sophomore, 1,832 yards (11.6 avg.) as a junior, and 1,453 yards (9.1) as a senior. He was the Niles West tailback and Walter was a wingback in the wing-T offense. The Chicago Sun- Times called Rashard the No. 1 recruit in the state and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution called him the 17th-best recruit in the nation.

At Illinois, Rashard played little as a true freshman. He carried 48 times for 218 yards and caught 13 passes. As a sophomore, he alternated with Pierre Thomas and gained 640
yards and led the Big 10 with an 8.2-yard average.

Thomas played in the NFL last season as an undrafted free agent for the New Orleans Saints, while Mendenhall took on the spotlight at Illinois. As a true junior, he closed in on the school rushing record of 1,330 yards by the 10th game of the 13-game season. He left a Minnesota blowout with 203 yards in the game and 1,314 in the season, and when asked if he wanted to go back in the game to break the record, Mendenhall “adamantly told the staff to put his brother in,” according to a family friend.

Walter Mendenhall had only two carries in four years up to that point and Ron Zook complied. Walter carried four times for 57 yards against Minnesota in his second and last appearance as an Illinois running back. Rashard, of course, went on to smash the school record with 1,681 rushing yards. He gained 155 yards on 17 carries in the Rose Bowl, including a 79-yard breakaway touchdown run. Illinois lost to USC, 49-17, but Rashard proved his ability against a defense laden with future pros.

“For me, personally, it didn’t do too much,” Mendenhall said about his Rose Bowl statistics. “I’ve always had confidence in my ability and in who I am as a player. But a lot of other people wanted to see what I’d be like against that type of competition, so I feel like it did help in that regard.”

Rashard announced his intention to turn pro after the game, and when his brother showed up to collect his Rose Bowl ring, Zook told him his scholarship was being pulled and not to come back for his fifth season. Walter then transferred to Illinois State, where he’s paying his own way as a grad student. He even turned down a later request
by Zook to return to Illinois. Rashard remarked unfavorably to Pittsburgh reporters about the incident, and later told a Champaign newspaper that “as long as Ron Zook is there, it will be hard for me to support the University of Illinois football team.”

On this day, Rashard kept mum on the issue. “That happens to a lot of guys,” he said of his brother losing his scholarship. “I’m with the Steelers. I was a first-rounder. Everything’s cool. I’m looking forward to the season and I’m enjoying myself in camp.”

Rashard was a 3.0 student at Illinois and was on the honor roll every semester. He studied recreational sports tourism with a focus on community recreation.

“My mom is a youth minister, so I wanted to go with something along those lines,” he said, indicating he eventually wants to work with innercity kids.

“Where my mom stayed on the South Side, we have a lot of kids out there without much to do, so they stay in trouble. What I want to do is create programs, things that are productive for them to do and have fun with instead of being bored and getting into trouble.”

When reminded how difficult such a job can be, Mendenhall chuckled. “Yeah, but I’m getting paid enough as is,” he said. “I don’t want to do it for the money. I feel good, you know what I mean? About helping somebody? I know from living with my coach, there were people who helped me. To help somebody, all that does is generate more and more
positivity. It’s just something I want to do
.
“When I was younger and we were on the South Side, my mom knew it’d be tough to succeed there, so that’s why we moved to Skokie. On the South Side, there’s not too much good around there. There’s no positivity, just a bunch of nothing.” It’s clear, at this point in the interview, that Rashard Mendenhall is a thoughtful, caring individual.

He’s a writer, a clarinet/saxophone player, a religious 21-year-old who enjoyed moments
of meditation on the front steps of the Saint Vincent College basilica, where he found
the Laurel Highlands mountain range as beautiful as he finds the Lake Michigan shoreline.
“I’m always going to be a bit of a cool, laidback kind of guy,” he said. “My thing is writing,
so that’s just what I do. I do my job when I’m out here on the field. I put in the work and what I like to do when I’m out of this is kind of relax, stay low-key and mellow. That’s why I was out by the lake that night, just the scenery to chill out and think. That’s what keeps me going.”

AkronSteel
08-20-2008, 10:10 PM
Thanks for the post! It was a good read. I didn't realize that is why Rashard was upset with Zook, that is terrible, whether it happens everywhere or not. I don't blame him for feeling the way that he does.

BTW, welcome back NKY! How was Myrtle? Did you get to catch the game last week? Just wonderin

fordfixer
08-20-2008, 11:30 PM
It was midnight when he and the girl began walking along the Lake Michigan shoreline when two thugs brandished a gun. Mendenhall responded coolly and handed over his wallet and cell phone.

I wonder if coach Tomlin is o.k. with this thug comment? :lol:

Great read thank's for posting it

NKySteeler
08-20-2008, 11:35 PM
BTW, welcome back NKY! How was Myrtle? Did you get to catch the game last week? Just wonderin

Thanx.... The beach was outstanding... No, didn't catch the game. Oscars' dropped the ball and didn't have it on the screens, so I missed it.... And to make matters worse, this Sat when there is supposed to be a national coverage game w/the Steelers v Vikings, it will be blacked-out here.... The Bungles will be televised instead!.... WTF!....

Shawn
08-21-2008, 12:29 AM
BTW, welcome back NKY! How was Myrtle? Did you get to catch the game last week? Just wonderin

Thanx.... The beach was outstanding... No, didn't catch the game. Oscars' dropped the ball and didn't have it on the screens, so I missed it.... And to make matters worse, this Sat when there is supposed to be a national coverage game w/the Steelers v Vikings, it will be blacked-out here.... The Bungles will be televised instead!.... WTF!....

Ouch that certainly sux. I wonder why the black out...odd.

AkronSteel
08-21-2008, 02:04 AM
BTW, welcome back NKY! How was Myrtle? Did you get to catch the game last week? Just wonderin

Thanx.... The beach was outstanding... No, didn't catch the game. Oscars' dropped the ball and didn't have it on the screens, so I missed it.... And to make matters worse, this Sat when there is supposed to be a national coverage game w/the Steelers v Vikings, it will be blacked-out here.... The Bungles will be televised instead!.... WTF!....

Dude......that sucks!! Maybe you can catch it online, SanAntonioSteeler gave me a website last week that was airing the game live Thursday so I didn't have to wait till midnight!!!

NKySteeler
08-21-2008, 11:09 AM
Ouch that certainly sux. I wonder why the black out...odd.

Well, "black-out" isn't the correct phrase.... "pre-empted" for the local team is more accurate...

Jom112
08-21-2008, 11:30 AM
I like Mendenhall a lot so this isn't really a shot at him but the part about that area of chicago not being bad is bull. I live about a mile north of solider field and there is a huge difference between living north of solider field and south of solider field. Anyone that lives in chicago knows that if you're in that area after midnight that something like that could happen. Hopefully he learned his lesson.

Mayor Daley has been doing a good job of improving south loop and pushing more of the crime further south (To the NW Indiana border) but that area still isn't the best...

proudpittsburgher
08-21-2008, 11:51 AM
You might want to try justin.tv for the game. I caught the Buffalo game there live, so I bet yuo might have good luck with that

Back to the article, It sounds like thi skid has a good head on his shoulders. I am more impressed with the character of this team day in and day out. It makes me more proud to be a fan of this franchise.

Lebsteel
08-21-2008, 07:01 PM
The nice thing about living between Cinci and Dayton is WHIO in Dayton still has the Steelers game on the schedule. :Clap



Ouch that certainly sux. I wonder why the black out...odd.

Well, "black-out" isn't the correct phrase.... "pre-empted" for the local team is more accurate...

NKySteeler
08-21-2008, 07:12 PM
The nice thing about living between Cinci and Dayton is WHIO in Dayton still has the Steelers game on the schedule. :Clap

Thanx for rubbing it in Leb...... :?

... Hey, it's a very short drive up that direction... You have room on the couch?.... :lol:

Lebsteel
08-22-2008, 02:07 PM
Sure, lots of room. You are welcome to join us at Buffalo Wild Wings in Lebanon!