The Steelers almost never got a chance to leap as quickly as they did when David DeCastro, a tenacious, determined, tackle-mashing guard from Stanford, all but fell into their lap in the first round of the NFL draft.
In fact, the three years DeCastro spent as a starting All-Pac-10 Conference guard at Stanford almost never came about, either.
When he was 18 months old, DeCastro's parents moved back to their native South Africa because his father, Colin, wanted to pursue a law career in Cape Town, his hometown. Colin and his wife, Jennifer, had met when both were doing their undergraduate work at the University of Cape Town.
But, after five months, Jennifer, who received her masters degree from the University of Washington, received a job offer in Seattle. So the DeCastros moved back to the Pacific Northwest. And, for that, Stanford and the Steelers, are forever grateful.
"There were a lot of twists and turns," Jennifer DeCastro said Friday, less than 24 hours after her son introduced a new twist to their family life -- becoming the No. 1 draft choice of the Steelers.
"I'm absolutely thrilled; he's thrilled, too," she said. "The team has such a tremendous fan base that is as passionate about football as he is. Even last week, when people asked him where he was going, he said he just wanted to be drafted. He's very grounded, very humble, very down to earth."
DeCastro (6-5, 316) was considered the best guard in the NFL draft and projected as a top-15 pick. But, when he kept slipping, the Steelers considered trading up to draft him. They didn't have to and were ecstatic to get him with the 24th overall selection.
They were prepared to draft Alabama inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower with their pick.
"This guy plays with a passion," said offensive line coach Sean Kugler. "He's intense. He gives that little extra nasty that some guys just don't have in them. He's got it."
In that manner, DeCastro reminds the Steelers of the player whom he will line up next to -- center Maurkice Pouncey, who started as a rookie and has been named to two Pro Bowls in two seasons.
"I can't wait to pair those two together," Kugler said.
DeCastro comes from a family of athletes. His maternal grandfather and father played rugby at the University of Cape Town and his paternal grandfather was a standout soccer player. When he was young, they had their sights set on grooming David to carry on the family tradition.
"My parents had no clue about football," DeCastro said.
DeCastro, though, never played rugby, and he didn't start playing football until ninth grade. But he inherited his toughness and nastiness from his dad, who lost his two front teeth and has a scar on his right eyebrow from when he played rugby.
But he might have inherited his height from his mother, who is 6-foot-1. And he might have inherited her intelligence, too.
DeCastro majored in management science and engineering at Stanford and said he has one more quarter to complete his degree.
His mom has three degrees, including a doctorate in audiology -- her profession -- from the University of Florida.
Last season, one of his three roommates was quarterback Andrew Luck, the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. They exchanged texts after each was drafted Thursday night.
Luck used to tease DeCastro about being the "clean" one in the apartment, often lowering his voice to mock the way DeCastro would yell at them.
"He tends to be over-organized and neat," DeCastro's mother said.
DeCastro's blocking consistency grade in 2011 (96.88) was the highest by any lineman since the Pac-10 began keeping that stat in 1987. He started all 39 games in which he played at Stanford, and in all that time he allowed only one sack. And DeCastro hasn't forgotten the moment, which came in his first season as a starter.
"To Brian Price of UCLA," he said. "There were probably a couple more where Luck kind of saved me. But there is one in the books."
DeCastro grew up in Bellevue, Wash., about 20 minutes from Seattle. His favorite team was the Seahawks, and he was upset when they lost to the Steelers in Super Bowl XL in Detroit.
Now he has been drafted by the enemy.
"He's been accused of being a turncoat before," Jennifer said. "People here never forgave him for leaving Washington and going to Stanford."
Stanford's favorite running play is called 97 Power, and it involved DeCastro pulling from his right guard position and leading the back through a hole opened by him and left tackle Jonathan Martin, another of the Cardinal's top linemen. Opponents knew they were going to run the play and could do nothing to stop it.
"One thing we brought to the table is being able to run to the weakside," said Stanford offensive line coach/run coordinator Mike Bloomgren, who left his position as assistant offensive coordinator with the New York Jets to join the Cardinal last season.
"And, wow, is he unbelievable at that stuff."
Bloomgren recalled a home game last season against the University of Washington -- the school is near DeCastro's hometown of Bellevue -- when his junior guard was largely responsible for Stanford rushing for a school-record 446 yards in a 65-21 victory.
In that game, DeCastro lined across from the Huskies' 348-pound nose tackle, Alameda Ta'amu, considered one of the top nose tackles in the draft. It was the first time Ta'amu, an all-conference tackle, did not register any statistics in a game in his college career.
"He basically went out there and dominated," Bloomgren said of DeCastro. "The guy took himself out of the game. He went to the sidelines and contemplated his life's goals.
"That's kind of what David DeCastro does to most guys."
Then, he added: "The guy wants to finish everything and dominate everything. He comes to work in a bad mood a lot of times.
"He's kind of a sour guy, but he gets the job done and he leads the group. He's a really, really impressive guy. The negatives are so small I really don't know what they are."
In '08, the Steelers did not expect Illinois running back Rashard Mendenhall to be on the board when they had the 23rd overall selection in the draft. When he was, they were so enamored of Mendenhall's ability they wasted little time making him their top pick, all but running his name to the podium.
The Steelers might have used even less time Thursday night making their decision when DeCastro slipped to them with the 24th overall pick.
Commissioner Roger Goodell no sooner had walked away from the podium after announcing the selection of Iowa tackle Riley Reiff to the Detroit Lions with the 23rd pick, that he nearly had to do a quick U-turn to head back to the microphone to announce DeCastro.
Friday, they wasted little time getting him to town to introduce him to the media.
Shortly after he was selected at approximately 10:20 p.m. Thursday, DeCastro caught a red-eye flight from Seattle and arrived at the South Side facility Friday morning. He was introduced at a 3 p.m. news conference.
"I think David may have set a record for the shortest time between being drafted and being on a plane to Pittsburgh," team president Art Rooney II said.
The Steelers hope he can transition that quickly to right guard on their offensive line.
"You get picked by the Steelers, it definitely overcomes any disappointment," DeCastro said, flanked in the news conference by Rooney, coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert. "I didn't go in with any expectation.
"I knew in the draft there are a ton of variables. I know lot of stuff can happen, with trades and what not. When the Steelers picked me, I was more than overjoyed."
Rooney presented DeCastro with a Steelers No. 1 jersey, symbolic of his selection as their top pick.
DeCastro wore No. 52 at Stanford, a number he is unlikely to get with the Steelers. That was the number worn by Hall of Fame center Mike Webster and, even though his jersey hasn't been retired, no player has worn that number since.
"It's definitely a life-changing moment," DeCastro said. "As far as the Steelers, I'm really excited. The organization and team speaks for itself. It's arguably one of the best, if not the best, fan base in the world.
"I'm just excited. It's a great football town. I couldn't be happier, really.
"I'm still trying to catch my breath. I had a bunch of text messages, a bunch of phone calls. It's an exciting time. I just want to enjoy the moment, but, at the same time, I'm excited to finally have a team and get started and play some football."
Gerry Dulac: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @gerrydulac. First Published April 29, 2012 12:45 AM