A starter at cornerback, overcoming pressure nothing new to Gay
William Gay already knows the pressure of playing cornerback in a Super Bowl against receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, so what's the big deal about a little regular-season home opener?
Actually, where Gay has been, the pressure of playing in a Super Bowl was nothing. Just as being one of only two new starters on the NFL's top defense carries little stress for him.
Gay knows real pressure, the kind that comes when your mother is murdered by your stepfather at age 8, and when your biological father dies four years later. You want to talk about pressure? He wrote a how-to book on overcoming it.
You want to point a finger at Gay next season if he gets beat on a long pass from his left cornerback spot, a job left vacant when Bryant McFadden joined the Arizona Cardinals? Go ahead, he has faced worse -- much, much worse.
"I've had a lot of pressure in my life, always," Gay said after yet another spring football practice with the Steelers. "Someone pointing the finger and saying something is not going to worry me."
Try having your world shattered at age 8.
"I had to grow up and be a man when I was 8," said Gay, who credits his grandmother, Corine Hall, 78, to raising him the right way in Tallahassee, Fla. "That's a lot of pressure on a kid. Just knowing, going through high school, I had to get a scholarship, that's a lot of pressure right there. Either I get a scholarship, or I'm back home.
"So pressure, like, 'Oh, it might be your fault because you're the new guy,' I'm not worried about that."
Also, it's not as if Gay will step into a new job at left cornerback this season. He shared the position with McFadden last season, so he has done it already at the highest levels.
Gay and McFadden alternated playing time last season, each took consecutive defensive series and then yielded to the other for the next two. Gay also started four games while McFadden had a broken forearm late in the season.
No one associated with the Steelers is fretting Gay's insertion into the starting lineup on a defense that ranked among the best this century in the NFL. The only other new starter will be inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons, although he, too, experienced plenty of playing time in 2008 as the nickel linebacker.
Gay, a fifth-round draft choice in 2007 from Louisville, played all 16 games as a rookie, mostly on special teams. He let everyone know he came to play in his first game when, playing some cornerback, he recovered a fumble and knocked down a pass at Cleveland. He picked up more action on defense as the season moved along, and his continued strong play last summer convinced his coaches to use him more often in 2008.
"It helped me build my confidence within NFL games," Gay said of his experience during the Super Bowl season. "And it just prepared me and let me know that I'm able to get out there and play among the best."
With all the experience Gay has had thrust onto him in and out of football over his 24 years, there's one more he eagerly awaits. That will occur when he's introduced at Heinz Field for the NFL opener Sept. 10 against Tennessee.
"To hear my name called and to run out of the tunnel will be a dream come true."
First Published June 11, 2009 12:00 am