Steelers' Pouncey left college to help family
Steelers first-round draft pick Maurkice Pouncey poses with head coach Mike Tomlin and president Art Rooney II during a press conference at the team's South Side facilities, Friday.
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In a professional world stocked with egos and self-absorption, Maurkice Pouncey is something of a rarity, almost too good to be true.
Steve Addazio, his offensive line coach at the University of Florida, called him an energy-giver, someone who enriches others with his desire and infectious personality.
When he was selected Thursday night as the No. 1 draft choice of the Steelers, Pouncey turned to the nearly 100 people in his mom and dad's small house in Lakeland, Fla., and proudly announced that now his great grandmother, Ruth Barr, who is 82, no longer has to clean houses for a living.
Left unsaid was how it would also help his mother, Lisa Webster, and step-dad, Robert, who have struggled financially since Robert lost his right leg in a rail-car accident 17 months ago and has been unable to work.
"Times are hard," Lisa Webster said. "Maurkice is glad he made the choice to go."
Her reference was to her son's decision to skip his senior season at Florida, where he started every game for three years after becoming only the second true freshman to start for Urban Meyer with the Gators.
But he did it, not just because he was told he would be the No. 1 center in the draft and could help his family financially, but also because his decision to leave would allow his identical twin brother, Michael, to replace him at center next season.
Michael Pouncey was a starting guard for the Gators in 2009, but his best position is center. By leaving school and entering the National Football League draft, Maurkice was giving his brother a chance to shine at the position he plays best in 2010. And, maybe, like him, end up in the NFL.
"We talked about it quite a bit," Michael Pouncey said Friday night, less than 24 hours after his brother was the 18th overall selection in the draft. "He wanted us to have our own image instead of always being the Pouncey twins."
"They've always been best friends," Lisa Webster was saying over the phone, minutes after her son was introduced in a late afternoon news conference at the Steelers' South Side facility.
"People are always messing with them. Maurkice was so shocked he hugged me, and then he was hugging and kissing his brother. This is the first time they will have been away from each other. This will be hard for him. Michael's happy for his brother. He's proud of his brother."
"I love my twin, Michael, to death," Maurkice said. "It's just amazing that you're always with somebody, but it's the time in our life now that we're separated and we're grown men and we got to go on about our lives."
Apparently, there is little Maurkice Pouncey does without thinking of others.
It was those intangibles, along with the unmistakable measurables that made Pouncey the 2009 Rimington Trophy winner as the nation's best center, that enamored the Steelers and convinced them to make him their No. 1 pick. Their plan is to use him at right guard, likely the most tenuous position on their offensive line.
"Maurkice is not all about him," said Addazio, a person whom Pouncey holds in high personal regard. "I'm telling you, this guy is the real deal. It's not just the talent. He gets the game.
"And he's an energy-giver. Some guys are energy-takers. He's an energy-giver. Every day, I got to be in that room with him, and it kind of fires you up. He and his brother, they're always like, let's get after it today."
That seemingly endless smile was not always on their face.
In November, 2008, in the week leading up to a game against Florida State, Lisa Webster called her two sons to tell them her husband was injured in a rail-car accident.
Robert Webster, 40, who attended Louisiana Tech on a football scholarship but never completed college, was moving a pair of rail cars with animal feed for Lakeland Animal Nutrition. When he tried to set the brake in the front car, the brake failed to engage.
Webster hopped on to the second car and tried to stop it, but it did not work. When he tried to jump before the car collided with other parked rail cars, his foot got caught on the track. He fell backward and a rail car rolled over his thigh, severing his leg.
An attempt to re-attach the leg was considered fruitless.
"I thought she was just playing with us because she's always joking around with us," Maurkice Pouncey said, recalling his mom's phone call.
When Maurkice and Michael returned to Lakeland, Robert Webster had a message for them: Get back to school.
"He knew in his heart that we had to go play in that game against Florida State," Pouncey said. "He forced us to go back to school. We have so much respect for him. I love that guy to death."
The twins wore wristbands with their step-dad's initials against Florida State. Last season, Robert Webster was in the stands at Florida's Ben Hill Griffin Stadium when the Gators opened defense of their national championship.
"It was real emotional for us," Michael Pouncey said. "We love him to death. He's been there since our father walked out on us."
Said Lisa Webster, "They can't stand it when people call him their step-dad. He's been there since they were 1 year old. He's their dad. They know he's worked hard."
It makes it easy to understand Pouncey's selfless manner.
First Published April 24, 2010 12:00 am