Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver and two-time Pro Bowler Antonio Brown had a rough start in life. His story rivals that of the Baltimore Ravens' Michael Oher, whose saga was made into the movie "The Blind Side." Mr. Brown's mother remarried when he was 16, and he was asked to move out. On his own, the young athlete found a way to persevere. He played football at Norland High School in Miami and went to Prep Christian Academy in North Carolina. That helped him get into Central Michigan University. He left after his junior year for the NFL and was drafted in the sixth round by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2010. The 25-year-old has been named team MVP twice. In 2013 he set a team record with 110 receptions, eight touchdowns and 1,499 yards. Off the field he is the father of Antonio Jr. Mr. Brown recently spent the day with Aaron Kellington, the winner of 2013 Panini NFL Player of the Day promotion. Mr. Kellington is an avid trading card collector from Oakdale.
So what was it like the first time you saw your image on a trading card?
It was pretty, pretty amazing. You know, you grow up collecting cards -- Pokemon cards and NFL player cards. So it was a great opportunity. I have my first cards in a bag in the locker. I look at the card and try to imagine when that shot was taken. How do they decide which picture they use? But I am grateful to have the cards with my picture.
Your childhood was not easy. Who helped guide you after you had to leave home?
Well, I went to prep school and that helped get my test scores better and be accepted. The coach who actually was recruiting me from prep school was at West Virginia at the time as a receivers coach, and he had just gotten the head coaching job at Central Michigan and offered me the opportunity to come as a walk-on from prep school.
You've said you forgave your mother for kicking you out of the house.
Yes, you only get one mother. She loves me, and if I wouldn't have went through what I went through I wouldn't be here today and be as mature as I am. I would not have been able to endure with the blessings that have been given to me. And it's hard for a woman in a situation between a son and a [new] husband. I know a lot of women and friends in those situations, and I just hope they repair their relationships as my mom and I did and hold no baggage about it.
How did you repair your relationship? Did she come to you or did you go to her?
A little bit of both. You know, my mom, she hates to hear about it. I don't want to embarrass her or make her out in a bad light, but coming from where I come from, I just wanted to share what I'd been through and maybe help other kids. I want to inspire them that they can make it and take responsibility for themselves and mature at an early age and be like Antonio Brown.
Antonio, "The Blind Side," the movie about Michael Oher, has nothing on you. Your story could be a movie.
[Laughing] I know, I know, yeah. But I'm still living and writing stories, so hopefully one day. But right now I just want to continue to do what's right and inspire others and continue to help my future.
How did you avoid staying out of trouble during the unsupervised years when you were going from friend's house to friend's house to sleep over?
You just gotta understand what's important. I knew that if I was to get in trouble, no one was going to be there to bail me out or come get me. You know what I'm saying? I knew as a kid that every decision I was going to be making I would have full responsibility. So I knew I had to do what's right and protect myself, you know?
How old were you when you started playing football?
Oh, 'bout 6 years old.
So as old as your son is now?
As old as my son, exactly, yep [laughs]. My son will be 7, so I started a little bit earlier than he has. I haven't really gotten him going with it yet. He's been in flag football. I started playing full-equipment football when I was 6 years old. My mom actually got me started in it.
After you were drafted and started making big money, what was the first thing you bought?
When you first get to the NFL, people are explaining to you to be cautious of how you are spending your money, so I didn't really get nothing too expensive. I obviously did when I got my second contract. I got something totally expensive.
What did you get?
I got a 2012 Rolls-Royce.
Where did you get all your ambition?
It just comes from being within myself. When everyone turned around on me, all I had to do was rely on myself. I got a strong spirit that I rely on and go into. It allows me to prepare and drive forward.
Were you always a believer?
Always a believer. You know, I had a lot of instances when I couldn't depend on anybody, and I always used to say a prayer: Show me the way. When everyone turned away, the only person I could turn to was God within myself, and that is what I continue to rely on.
Was there a time your faith was really challenged?
Um, not really. I think challenge is always around us, but I don't really look at it like that. I always took it as it is just something I've got to go through because there is a blessing in the midst of it. Everything that is really difficult is a blessing in disguise, and that is the approach I take.
When did you come up with the phrase "Chest Up, Eyes Up, Prayed Up?"
That's been for a while. You know anytime I have been faced with adversity or faced with circumstances in life, I just always reminded myself to never give up, to always press on and keep trying. In the midst of that I just came up with the saying, and it reminded me to keep driving it -- Chest Up, Eyes Up, Prayed Up. In any situation if I was in need of confidence, I would believe in myself to keep my head up, my eyes up and remain spiritually strong. It helped me overcome and press on through any obstacle in my life.
Are you teaching your son the same thing?
Well, his story is a little bit different from mine. He has both of his parents in his life. His dad's wealthy, so his challenge is a lot different from mine [laughing]. I think his motto may be a little bit different.
His challenges may be different, but that is a good motto for anybody.
Oh, for sure. I think it absolutely is. He definitely could learn a lot from it, but I think his motto will be a little bit more creative.
Do you worry about concussions? If not for you, do you worry about it if your son wants to play?
You know, this game is brutal, but we know what we signed up for. It's obviously something, as a parent, I for sure worry about my son playing. When I'm in the game, I just try to take precautions and play to the best of my abilities within the rules and playing smart and trying to put myself in good positions.
How often do you get recognized on the street?
It's picking up a lot lately. People have started to come up to me and acknowledge me. I really appreciate it. It shows me what kind of a person I am growing into and how people look to me as a certain kind of person. When they want pictures and stuff it is a great, tremendous honor. I definitely appreciate it and don't take it for granted.
So I know you are ambitious and set goals for yourself. You just missed beating Hines Ward's [record] of 112 catches last year. Are you going after it again this year?
[Laughing] I really don't want to speak out loud and put it out there right now. I want to keep it under wraps. But you know I've always got my eyes on the prize.
It's important to have goals.
For sure, otherwise, how are you going to get better?
The news lately has been about pro athletes coming out as gay. Does it matter to you what your teammates' sexual identity is?
Obviously not. Our business is winning. The personal life of different players, teammates is definitely not relative to me or any other individual in the locker room. Anyone who is willing to put their hand in the pile and help us win, we do a good job of embracing them.
And as far as the touchdown dance, are you going to change yours?
I like to keep it consistent, but you know I have a variety of ways of doing it. It depends on that day how I feel when I do it. I usually try to make it fun.
Patricia Sheridan: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2613. Follow her on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/pasheridan.