No one questions Isaac Redman's toughness. Considering how close he came to going to prison and the rough road he took to the NFL, there might not be a tougher or tougher-minded player on the Steelers, although I wouldn't want you to use my name if you suggest that to James Harrison. But there are concerns about Redman's durability. Already this summer, there have been a hip problem, a neck stinger and a sprained ankle. How is the man going to hold up over the long, brutal season?
"Don't worry about me," Redman said last week. "I've been waiting for this opportunity since I was 6 years old. I'm not going to waste it."
Redman should start at running back tonight when the Steelers play their opening game in Denver against the Broncos. Everybody will be happy if he can duplicate his performance from the team's previous trip to Denver. He had 17 carries for 121 yards in the playoff game in January and would have been the star of the day if the Steelers hadn't been Tebowed in overtime, 29-23.
That wasn't the first time that Redman made a huge contribution. That happened late in the 2010 season in the game at Baltimore when his 9-yard catch-and-run late in the fourth quarter turned into the winning touchdown in a 13-10 victory. On his way to the end zone, he shrugged off safety Dawan Landry and linebacker Jarret Johnson in front of a "Football Night in America" television audience.
"A lot of the older guys on the team started talking differently to me after that," Redman said. He laughed. "I owed [linebacker] Larry Foote $500. He wiped the debt clean for me after that game."
Redman put a lot of money in Foote's pocket and his teammates' pockets with that play because it was a big factor in the team's AFC North Division championship and run to Super Bowl XLV.
Redman's performance in Denver enhanced his position with the Steelers and made his coaches believe he could tote the pig this season, although Jonathan Dwyer also will be used at running back and Rashard Mendenhall doesn't appear to be far from being ready after knee surgery. Redman was the featured back against the Broncos because Mendenhall went out with his knee injury the week before. "I knew my teammates needed me to step up," Redman said. He was especially motivated because his running backs coach, Kirby Wilson, was seriously burned in a house fire a few days earlier. "I wanted to play my heart out for him," Redman said, adding, "It's great that Kirb's recovered and will be with us on the sideline for this game."
It will be a much more confident Redman tonight than the one who arrived in Latrobe for his first Steelers training camp in 2009. He came from tiny Bowie State with a troubled past that included a sexual assault charge as a teenager. He was the longest of longshots.
"I was just hoping I wouldn't get cut in the OTAs or minicamp," Redman said. "I don't look like much with just a helmet on me. I'm a different player in shoulder pads."
Redman proved that during training camp goal-line drills. He kept lining up and running through the Steelers' No. 1 defense to score touchdowns. Suddenly, he had a nickname.
"Red Zone" Redman.
"I was running for my life in those drills," he said. "I wasn't just running for touchdowns. I was running to take care of my family."
Redman was on and off the Steelers' practice squad that first season. Former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians described him as "extremely raw" but added, "He's a football player. He's going to help us one day." Redman said the team's veteran running backs helped him a lot, especially Willie Parker. "He showed me how to be a professional." In 2010, Redman played on special teams, backed up Mendenhall and made that big play in Baltimore. Last season, he took on an even bigger role, the topper coming in that playoff game in Denver.
"A lot of people never would have thought in a million years that this day would come for me," Redman said.
Redman said he knew at 6, growing up in Paulsboro, N.J., near Camden in the Philadelphia suburbs, that he would be a football player. "Seriously. I knew the rules of the game better than any kid my age. I knew all the players on the Eagles' roster. I was a big Eagles fan."
Redman got that from his mother, Leslie. She'll tell you that he and his first cousin, Yahmeen Johnson, always were outside playing ball. Everybody figured Redman would get a college scholarship and go on to the NFL.
In April 2003, late in Redman's senior year of high school, he was charged with first-degree sexual assault. He was 18. The girl was 15.
Suddenly, the NFL was far from Redman's mind. He was looking at the possibility of a lot of jail time, perhaps 20 years.
"I was nervous and scared about what was going to happen," Redman said.
The legal expenses were overwhelming. They ended up costing Redman's mother her car and their house and forced the family into bankruptcy. He says his mother is his hero for standing by him and sacrificing everything but added they had a lot of support. "People in my neighborhood would give us money and checks to pay the lawyers. They knew the type of person I am and the type of family I came from."
There was no scholarship and no football in 2003 for Redman. He wound up pleading to a fourth-degree sexual contact charge and was given three years of probation. "At first, I didn't want to take the deal. I didn't want to plead to something I didn't do," Redman said. "But they told me if it went to trial, I'd have to sit out another year. I was tired of sitting around. So I took the probation."
Redman said Temple promised to honor its scholarship offer but stopped taking his calls after his plea agreement. Only Bowie State, a historically black college in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., that played the likes of Slippery Rock and Elizabeth City State, stepped up for him. "I figured, 'I'll go anywhere to play football,' " Redman said. "I just wanted to get off the couch."
You know what they say, right?
The rest is history.
Redman plans on adding to it tonight.
"I'm ready to seize the moment," he said.
Tough? You bet Redman is.
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. First Published September 9, 2012 4:00 AM