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|02-19-2009, 06:21 PM||#1|
A Son of Martha
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Son of Curwensville residents gets chance of a lifetime as intern for Pittsburgh
Son of Curwensville residents gets chance of a lifetime as intern for Pittsburgh Steelers
Thursday, February 19, 2009
By Jon Christoff Sports Writer
Many Pittsburgh Steeler fans will forever remember where they were when Santonio Holmes caught the game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLIII a few weeks ago.
Chances are, though, it wouldn't come close in matching University of Pittsburgh senior Steve Gaul's experience.
An athletic training major, Gaul was on the sidelines that night in Tampa Bay, where he has been throughout much of the season as an intern for one of the most popular professional franchises.
Gaul, whose parents Tom and Lynne live in Curwensville, was the only Pitt intern awarded the position after applying for the spot last year.
For the 2005 St. Marys graduate, it was just another accomplishment to cross off his checklist he set back in junior high.
"I think my parents were a little more excited than I was (when I found out about the internship), said Gaul, "but I was certainly (excited, too). This is something I had established as a goal of mine since I wanted to go into athletic training.
"I started thinking about it in either 8th grade or freshman year, and I set goals: make it to Pitt, get accepted into the training program, and work for the Steelers. It was (a feeling of) complete relief. The excitement, I couldn't describe it."
Gaul had little time to celebrate, however, as he got started with the internship last April with all of the offseason workouts and minicamps before training camp got under way in July.
Gaul worked through the six weeks of OTAs and half of minicamp before undertaking a full-time load at St. Vincent College, where the Steelers call home in the preseason.
Once he began his work Gaul, understandably, was in awe of the team that he watched religiously growing up.
"Initially, when I first started in the summertime, I saw these guys close up and I was like, ‘wow this is really happening,'" Gaul said. "I was questioning whether or not I was good enough to work with them. Once I got working and got into a groove, I enjoyed it a lot. There wasn't a single time when I thought, ‘why do I have to do this?'"
While he enjoyed the time he put in, Gaul and the rest of the Athletic Training Staff put in long hours each day.
Many times they arrived hours before practice began to get everything prepared for the day's practice, and stayed long after it was over in preparation for the next day's work.
Once the players arrived for the day, Gaul took part in taping them and gave them pre-practice or pregame treatment.
After the season got started and the players were facing more serious injuries, the Athletic Training Staff worked with them in programs much like a physical therapist would.
Different players went to different people for their daily preparations, and Gaul had the luxury of helping out two of the more popular players in Heath Miller and Troy Polamalu, who became his favorite player.
"Before I started with the Steelers, (my favorite player was) probably Hines Ward," said Gaul. "It's nothing against Hines personally, but I think it's changed to Troy. He's probably the nicest player you'll ever meet. It doesn't look like it, when he's hitting people and making plays, but he's someone if I had kids and they were playing sports, he's someone I'd want them to watch. He's a great guy on and off the field."
Gaul has many stories of off-field experiences, but his favorite one to tell was when Polamalu popped out of the laundry bin to try to scare the workers.
"Not one of us jumped," Gaul said, "but I thought, ‘they're just regular guys trying to have a good time, and they're just like us.'
"Troy is a goofball. He's a funny guy and I love telling that story."
Gaul attended all the home games and split the road schedule with an intern from Duquesne University, as he made trips to Jacksonville, Washington, New England and Cleveland - all of which the Steelers won.
Once the postseason arrived and Pittsburgh claimed the AFC Championship, Gaul was off for one week in Florida.
"It was amazing. I went down a week early with the team and missed a lot of classes, but it was definitely worth it," said Gaul. "Once we got into the stadium, it was pretty much the same as the regular season, but you could feel the excitement was higher. It was an hour, hour and a half before game before we walked out. It was really something else."
Many of the players wanted extra treatment before the big game, as they were afraid of dehydration on the NFL's biggest stage, but it was all worth it for Gaul, who hugged several players when Holmes made the game-winning catch.
Once they realized the play was under review, Gaul and the Steeler sideline watched the replay on the Jumbotron.
"It was tough to tell, but we thought he caught it," Gaul said. "(Once the catch was confirmed) we flipped out and started jumping up and down - even the guys that didn't dress because they were injured. It was so exciting, and it's something I will never forget. It was probably the most exciting moment of my life."
The end of the Steelers' run to their sixth Super Bowl win marked the end of Gaul's internship with the team, but it wasn't the end of his time working with a big name program.
Shortly after the season ended, Gaul accepted a graduate assistant's position for another team he grew up cheering for - the Ohio State football team.
Gaul, a Buckeye fan after living eight years of his life in Columbus, will begin work in June and will be on the sidelines for all Ohio State games this fall.
The experience with the Steelers is one of the most memorable times in Gaul's life - even though he won't get a Super Bowl ring.
"Technically since I'm not full-time staff, I don't get one," said Gaul. "Some of the full-time guys don't even get them. I'd love to have a ring, but the experience is good enough for me.
"I'm just going to remember going into the training room and being with all the guys. The friendships that I didn't expect to have, I'm going to cherish them because there's a lot of good guys on the team. I wish I could be there full time as my job."
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