Veteran defensive end Brett Keisel arrived at Saint Vincent College in style Wednesday afternoon. Well, if not style, then Keisel's definition of it.
While most of his teammates were showing up in Cadillac Escalades, BMWs and other assorted luxury cars, Keisel drove an orange Kubota front-loading tractor onto campus before he checked into his dorm room. Keisel has made a habit of arriving to camp with a grand entrance, and he said his inspiration for the tractor was a nod to his youth when he worked on farms in his native Wyoming.
"I love driving these things because it reminds me of my childhood," Keisel said. "I grew up swathing hay and plowing fields and planting fields.
"I grew up in Wyoming driving one of these bad boys working on a farm. Hard work pays off. You have to deal with adversity, all the things we have to deal coming into this camp."
Keisel has a friend at Murphy Family, Inc., in Washington, Pa., who allows him to use tractors on his local property. He said he drove the tractor about 20 miles Wednesday, including up Route 30 into Latrobe. Along the way, he received some strange glances from other drivers.
"It took me maybe an hour," he said. "I got some looks. People were like, 'What is this guy doing?' "
The tractor wasn't the only symbolic part of Keisel's entrance. He sported a T-shirt with the words "Hunt for VII" emblazoned on the front along with a picture of Keisel in his trademark bow-and-arrow sack pose. A Super Bowl victory this season would be the seventh for the Steelers.
The 11-year veteran also showed up in midseason form in terms of facial hair. "I let it go a little bit earlier," he said. "I'm excited to see what it looks like. I got about two months going right now. It should be longer and more beautiful than ever."
Punters, kickers and long snappers usually escape the media horde on the first day of training camp, but Jeremy Kapinos drew a large crowd when he arrived. Kapinos, entering his second season as the team's punter, is a Penn State graduate, and he offered his opinions on the NCAA sanctions that were handed down earlier this week.
Kapinos stressed the focus should be on the victims of the child sexual abuse, but he also let it be known that he and other former Penn State players are not happy about the NCAA vacating 111 victories from the record books from 1998-2011.
He said the NCAA's decision to take away wins was "just taking a shot at a dead guy."
"It's unfortunate," he said. "The NCAA obviously felt the need to do something. The thing that stings the most is the loss of wins, as it does for a lot of my lettermen buddies. The wins are gone, but the memories of playing with those guys are still there."
Kapinos, who played at Penn State from 2003-06, is particularly sensitive about the victories being vacated because they were so hard to come by his first two seasons in college.
"We didn't cheat to win those games," he said. "Shoot, the first two years I played there, we were 3-9 and 4-7. It wasn't like wins were easy for us."
Kapinos said he is still proud to be a Penn State graduate, but he is aware of how people might view him. He said one mother at a football camp this summer told him she would never send her children to Penn State. And, when he spoke to some students at an elementary school, he was nervous about how he was perceived.
"I cringed a little when they introduced me as a Penn State grad because the reputation is bad now," he said.
Offensive tackle Max Starks is entering his ninth season with the Steelers, but only his eighth training camp at Saint Vincent. He missed last summer when the Steelers released him before camp began. He was signed four weeks into the season and regained his starting job.
Now, Starks is back in camp, but his job description is not yet known. He was signed to provide depth along an offensive line that is trending younger, but he also could push rookie Mike Adams for a starting job.
"I would like to say it's an even playing field more so than 'It's someone's job to lose,' " he aid. "I think it will be even. Obviously, I'm the one delayed in the process."
Starks injured his knee in the AFC playoff loss in Denver in January and had offseason knee surgery. He will start camp on the physically-unable-to-perform list.
"Hitting a blocking sled with a 170-pound dude is not the same as going up against Brett Keisel or Cam Heyward," Starks said. "Obviously, we'll take it easy the first few days of camp and see how I adjust and move from there. I'll start out on active PUP which is day to day and proceed from there."
Five other players will begin camp on the PUP list: linebacker James Harrison (knee), defensive back Damon Cromartie-Smith (shoulder), running back Rashard Mendenhall (knee), linebacker Jason Worilds (hand) and nose tackle Casey Hampton (knee).
Coach Mike Tomlin indicated several of those players are close to returning.
"Some of these guys that are getting close," Tomlin said. "We want to get them in this setting, look at them, work them out and be certain that it's something that's behind us before we proceed. In many instances, it might be viewed as precautionary measures. ... In all of these cases I'll be optimistic about when we'll get them back.
Of all the Steelers, cornerback Keenan Lewis might have the most insight into the contract negotiations between receiver Mike Wallace and the club. Lewis and Wallace are close friends and worked out together almost every day this summer.
Lewis, however, wasn't saying much Wednesday regarding Wallace.
"He's ready to work" was his reply to most questions that were asked.
Lewis said Wallace will be in shape and ready to step into his usual role whenever he arrives.
"He's anxious to get here and be ready to work," he said. "I think he's the best shape he's ever been in as far as conditioning and running routes."
Reserve quarterback Charlie Batch showed up with a Flashback 3 Atari game system tucked under his arm. Entering his 15th NFL training camp, Batch likely is one of the few players on the team who was alive when Atari was popular.
"A lot of these young guys have no idea about Atari," Batch said. "This is classic here."
Among the games Batch was looking forward to playing were Asteroids and Pitfall. If Batch's choice of gaming systems doesn't have him feeling old, this statistic he came across days ago might: After New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Batch is the longest-tenured quarterback with the same team. He is entering his 11th season with the Steelers.Steelers
Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com or 412-263-1230. First Published July 26, 2012 4:00 AM