View Full Version : Once a star at CWU, Reilly is now just an NFL rookie in Pittsburgh

06-21-2009, 01:25 PM
Behind the Steel Curtain
Once a star at CWU, Reilly is now just an NFL rookie in Pittsburgh
Saturday, June 20, 2009 4:10 AM PDT

PITTSBURGH — The rite of initiation seemed simple enough. On Mike Reilly’s first day of mini-camp in Pittsburgh, he just had to walk into a room full of Steelers teammates, introduce himself and be welcomed into the ranks of one of the most storied franchises in NFL history.

But in the NFL, especially for a rookie, nothing is ever that easy.

“At first glance, that seems like an easy task,” Reilly said, “but you walk in with 70 NFL football players staring at you, and if you don’t say something funny that they have an enjoyable time listening to, they’re going to boo you off the stage.”

Reilly’s resume carries little weight to the Steelers. In Ellensburg, Reilly was arguably the greatest quarterback to ever walk the halls of Central Washington University. In Pittsburgh, he’s just another rookie.

It’s a far cry from Reilly’s days at CWU, when he was the guy whom everyone turned to — from players, to coaches, to fans, to reporters. It’s not unlike 2005, when Reilly was a fresh face to CWU, but coming from Washington State University, he certainly had a place there. He only needed to prove he belonged.

Reilly has been in Pittsburgh for almost two months, and that task is already well underway.

“It’s just like freshman year in college,” Reilly said. “You show up, and you’re not out of place, but you’re in a new environment with new people. But you make friends pretty quickly.”

Reilly isn’t just building relationships with fellow rookies, either. He’s also latched onto backup quarterback Charlie Batch, who is entering his 12th year in the NFL and his eighth with Pittsburgh.

“Charlie Batch is a really a great guy,” Reilly said. “He’s been a great role model and a coach, not only on the field. I’ve spent a lot of time talking with him about the offense and just being in the NFL in general.”

And Batch isn’t the only one. Aside from a few first-day barbs, Reilly and the rest of the rookies have gotten a warm reception from all their veteran teammates. Even though this is a team that is coming off its sixth Super Bowl championship, it entered the spring’s organized team activities (OTAs) with an air of humility. (What a difference in attitude from the last time we won a super bowl. - mesa)

“It’s incredible how humble some of these guys are, especially for being Super Bowl champs,” Reilly said. “It’s as much of a family as I think you can expect in the NFL.”

Reilly is still learning how to fit into his new family. Once he signed his three-year contract after being picked up as an undrafted free agent, he dove right into OTAs and hasn’t slowed down since.

His day begins at 5:30 a.m., and until 4 p.m., he lifts weights, attends meetings and works with the team on the field until it’s time to go home. And the rest of the night is spent studying the playbook and sleeping until it’s time to get up and do it all again.

Reilly doesn’t know where he stands on the depth chart and won’t know until training camp starts in August. OTAs have been a time for him to learn the schemes and adjust to the speed of the NFL game. Other than a few subtle hints from coaches, Reilly hasn’t received much feedback on his play so far, but he’s believes he’s done enough to warrant consideration.

“It’s kind of a new environment in Pittsburgh, but it’s still the same game of football I’ve been playing for 18 years,” Reilly said. “The speed’s a little bit different, but it just takes a couple days to get used to and it seems normal to play at this speed and this level.

“The biggest thing is mentally the playbook is three or four times bigger than at Central, but it’s all based on certain schemes. Once you pick those up, it’s pretty simple.”

Reilly thinks he’s starting to get used to this whole pro football thing — on the field, at least. Off the field, it’s all still very new, exciting and humbling.

Reilly declined to discuss the specific monetary figures of his contract, but he conceded that it was for seven figures and was “more money than I could have ever thought.”

But Reilly isn’t living in the lap of luxury just yet. Far from it.

“It’s kind of weird because I’m more broke than any of my friends right now,” Reilly said. “You’re working your tail off, but in the NFL, you really don’t get paid until the regular season starts. ... We’ve been training really hard but not getting paid for it for going on seven months now, and you’re trying to live off what little money you have. That’s been the biggest surprise.

“I’m literally broke as a joke, and I’m a professional NFL quarterback. I never thought anyone would be able to say that.”

That will change if Reilly makes the final roster, and it will change in a big way. But he won’t know if he’s part of that equation until training camp. Before that, Reilly plans to come back to Washington to spend a few weeks with friends and family, and to meet up with former CWU teammate Jared Bronson, who was picked up by the Miami Dolphins. Reilly’s phone died a few weeks ago, so he’s excited to get back in touch with an old friend.

But the time for reminiscences will be short. Once training camp begins, so does the battle for a spot on the depth chart. Right now, Reilly is just another greenhorn in the big bad NFL, but he hopes this summer is just the beginning of a long and fruitful future in the league.

“It’s been a little strange, but it’s been a very good experience,” Reilly said. “It’s one I hope to have for the next 10 to 12 years.”