When Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was growing up in Newport News, Va., his family did not have the money to send him to football camps. Tomlin earned a scholarship to William & Mary without benefit of any coaching beyond what he received in high school.
Now that he is a head coach in the NFL, Tomlin is giving 225 youths this week the opportunity to attend a football camp for free at Brashear High School.
Tomlin is playing host to a two-day camp for boys and girls ages 7-14, where the children can rub elbows with the Steelers coach and learn about football.
"All of our corporate sponsors underwrite the entire camp," Tomlin said Thursday morning in a break at the practice. "It's free for every kid out there. We take finances out of it. I was a kid who had some tough financial situations growing up and probably would have not have been able to pay for a camp. These kids are getting the same amenities that kids get when they go to a pay camp."
The camp was not open to the general public. Most of the youths in attendance live in urban areas and don't have the ability to pay hundreds of dollars to attend other football camps where expert instruction is given.
"Hopefully, it's inspiring," Tomlin said. "That's my intention. I wasn't afforded opportunities like this when I was a young fellow. That's probably one of the primary reasons I do camps such as these, so these kids know that I'm a regular guy just like their dads or uncles, that I'm not an alien, that I come from somewhere, that I like hanging out with the little ones and encouraging them.
"More importantly, letting them know that they're capable of chasing their dreams and have the opportunity to live their dreams, like I live mine every day."
Tomlin cannot do much at his day job these days. The NFL lockout is in its third month with little indication it will end soon. Tomlin said earlier this spring that a protracted lockout would benefit the Steelers because they have veteran players and veteran coaching that knows how to approach offseason work without constant supervision.
Still, all coaches enjoy the grind of training camp and look forward to evaluating their players in competitive circumstances. When asked how much time he needs to ready his team for the season, Tomlin deflected the question and said it's not a big issue.
"I'm less concerned about that," he said. "As long as nobody is getting more days than I am and the playing field is level ... these are unique circumstances, no doubt. But it's unique for everyone. So, from that standpoint, the playing field will be level, and everyone will see a very challenging product when we get down to business."
Tomlin is entering his fifth season as head coach, and the Steelers have appeared in two Super Bowls under his watch. Tomlin became the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl when he led the Steelers to a victory in Super Bowl XLIII.
In February, the Steelers lost to the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV. Tomlin said losing the Super Bowl has not changed his approach.
"Surprisingly, it hasn't," he said. "My goals haven't changed and won't change. Every year, I'm trying to be that team. Sometimes, your journey ends the first week in January. Sometimes, your journey ends on the biggest stage and you come up short. It is what it is. If you're not that team, you're not, and you roll your sleeves back up and you go to work. Our intentions will be the same going into '11."
Tomlin did not have any updates on any of the Steelers -- such as Emmanuel Sanders, Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith -- who were dealing with injuries late in the season.
"I haven't seen them," he said.
A member of the camp staff and Tomlin set some ground rules before the interview. He did not want to take any questions about running back Rashard Mendenhall and his controversial remarks on his Twitter account or anything regarding the lockout.
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1230. First Published June 17, 2011 4:00 AM