Peak for Valley grad Clemons was being drafted by Steelers
May 6, 2012 4:00 AM
Toney Clemons goes up for a pass on Day 2 of rookie orientation camp.
By Sam Werner Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
As the seventh and final round of the recent NFL draft crept to a close, Toney Clemons began to question whether he would get that call.
Clemons, a Colorado wide receiver and Valley High School graduate, was projected to go in the late rounds, but could easily have gone undrafted.
He began to prepare for the process of signing with a team as a free agent. In later rounds, players sometimes even prefer to go undrafted so they can have a say in with which the team they sign.
If things work out, Clemons thought, maybe he would be lucky enough to get a chance with his hometown Steelers.
Finally, Clemons' phone rang. Even better, it was a 412 area code.
The Steelers selected Clemons with the 231st overall pick, giving him a chance for "a dream come true."
"Just numbers-wise, it doesn't really happen often," Clemons said about the chance to play for his hometown team. "It's a small number, small odds, and I never even imagined it. Even in the process, when I found out they were interested in me, I was still like, 'What are the chances of me ending up there?'"
The Steelers didn't take Clemons just for his Pittsburgh roots, though. General manager Kevin Colbert said he thought the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Clemons had the tools to compete right away at wide receiver.
Clemons transferred from Michigan to Colorado after his sophomore year. In just two seasons with the Buffaloes, he racked up 86 catches for 1,162 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Colbert also noted Clemons' ability to contribute on special teams.
"He's really athletic," Colbert said after the draft. "That was the thing that you don't see. A lot of times you see big guys, you see sometimes they are big, strong guys and they aren't the fastest or most fluid. This kid can make some small-man catches, and some small-man runs after the catches."
Clemons got his first taste of NFL action this weekend at the Steelers' rookie minicamp. He expected the speed of the game to increase, but also noted the jump required in mental preparation at the professional level.
"They don't come in questioning whether you know [the playbook] or not," he said. "They put you in the huddle, make the call and expect you to know it.
"It's just been like studying for one of the hardest exams of your life every single day."
Clemons knows that challenge will get even more difficult when the veterans show up this summer for organized team activities.
"We're playing fast now, but it's nothing compared to when the vets get here," he said. "It's going to be a whole different level."
Clemons has plenty of hurdles to clear before he can fulfill his dream and run out of the tunnel at Heinz Field wearing black and gold.
One side benefit of playing close to home, though, is having plenty of friends and family nearby to lend support.
In fact, Clemons said that when the call from the Steelers finally came, his friends and family were jumping up and down, celebrating even more than he was.
"My mom has me home," he said with a smile. "She was just excited. You would've thought she got the call."
Clemons was prepared for that call not to come. But it did, and he's ready to take advantage.