I recently had the pleasure of calling the Pittsburgh Steelers fourth round selection, Cortez Allen, who played his college football at The Citadel. It was definitely a pleasure to speak with him, and I’d like to not only thank him, but thank his agent Shawn, and the company that represents him – XAM Sports. They’ve quickly become friends of mine with their ‘Steelers fans first’ attitude and the general accessibility of their personnel and clients.
Tom Jenkins: First of all, congratulations on not only being drafted, but by being drafted by a team that perennially contends for a Super Bowl and has one of the biggest and best fan bases around the league! I’d also like to thank you for taking time out of your day to answer these questions for Steelers Chronicle.
Cortez Allen: Thanks, and no problem, thank you for the opportunity.
TJ: Forgive my ignorance about the Citadel, but does it require a military commitment?
CA: If you’re contracted to go there, then it requires a commitment, but not if you don’t sign a contract for the military.
TJ: What made the Citadel your school of choice?
CA: The structure of it, mainly. The support system there is amazing and the values they instill in you are invaluable. The discipline you have to have to succeed there is rigorous, but it betters you for the rest of your life.
TJ: What do you feel are the most important things that you learned at The Citadel that carries over onto the football field?
CA: They teach you to be mentally tough, which plays heavily onto the football field, along with the ability to overcome adversity, whether it be a trouble in life, or having to dig deep and perform big time in a football game. The leadership you’re taught at the Citadel is absolutely essential in all phases of life, and being a captain senior year I definitely took those lessons to heart.
TJ: I read that you only played on year of high school football, what was the reason for that, and how did you get the urge to join the team your senior season?
CA: I played two years total, but only one of varsity football. I joined the team my junior year and tried to play varsity, but the coach said that the others were too far ahead and I ended up playing JV for a year before stepping onto the varsity squad my senior year.
TJ: Have you always played corner, or were there other positions that you played over your football career?
CA: I’ve always been a cornerback.
TJ: What’s your favorite thing about the cornerback position?
CA: It’s a tough, challenging position. Not everyone can play corner, it requires superb athletic ability and I really enjoy the challenge of it day in and day out. The one on one matchups are probably my favorite part about it, though.
TJ: You have yet to play a snap at the NFL level, and you’ve already been compared to the Arizona Cardinals Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and your new teammate, Ike Taylor, do you feel that your style and build are like those two, or do you have another player in mind that you’ve attempted to mold your game after?
CA: Those guys are both great players and phenomenal athletes, there is no doubt about that, but I think that the comparison goes only as far as the way I size up with them physically, but I don’t try and mold myself into any other play, I just try and be the best player I can be, using what I have.
TJ: What were you doing when you got the phone call from Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin? And what was your reaction?
CA: My brother and I were in the living room, where we had two TV’s on, one was showing the draft, and the other one had the PS3 hooked up, and we were playing the new Mortal Kombat, because I was trying to stay calm. I was beyond excited when I saw a number calling that I didn’t have saved in my phone, I answered the phone and it was Coach Tomlin and it was just an exciting, beautiful moment in my life.
TJ: What do you feel is the best aspect of your game?
CA: I like to think of myself as a physical corner, I think that I’m very good at pressing the receiving off of the line and really just see myself as a versatile player in general.
TJ: You’re going into a pretty good situation for a rookie defensive player, your defensive coordinator is a Hall Of Famer and your defensive backs coach is a former Pro Bowler for this team. Not to mention you’ll be playing alongside two Defensive Players of the year in Troy Polamalu and James Harrison, what are your expectations for your rookie season?
CA: I’m just looking for a way to contribute anyway that I possibly can for this team, and I’m hoping to learn a lot from the veterans on this team, they’ve been doing this for a long time and are very good at what they do, I have a feeling that I’m going to learn a great deal from Ike Taylor, and in general I’m just going to do everything that I can to help this team.
TJ: Not only are the Steelers very solid defensively, but on the practice field you’re going to get to go up against one of the better receiving corps in the league, what are your thoughts on that?
CA: I’m looking forward to it, it’s an opportunity to learn, when you have guys like Hines Ward and Ben Roethlisberger on the other side of the ball.
TJ: I know you can’t receive your playbook at the moment, or participate in team activities due to the lockout, but what are you doing to get yourself mentally and physically ready for the 2011 season?
CA: I’m just staying in shape in general, so that conditioning won’t be an issue when we can finally practice, and I’m trying to stay in contact with other players to see where they’re at along the conditioning line so that I can keep up and go into camp completely in shape.
TJ: When you’re not doing football related activities, what are you doing?
CA: When I’m not playing Mortal Kombat, I’m usually on Call Of Duty, the PSN is down right now, but it should be back up soon. When I’m not gaming, I’m usually just hanging out with my friends, as long as I’m with them it doesn’t really matter what we do, whether it be fishing or going to the mall and just being regular guys.
TJ: Something I’ve been wondering about since I saw it is where did your Twitter username come from?
CA: Haha, it’s my first name backwards and my middle name. It was the first thing I could think of when I signed up and it just stuck.
TJ: And finally, I’ll end on a kind of fun question, there’s no wrong answer here – Who was the better NFL cornerback, Rod Woodson or Deion Sanders?
CA: Man…both are unquestionably great, but I think that Deion is the more renowned corner and I’ve got to go with him. You can’t go wrong with either one, though.
During my conversation with Cortez, I feel that not only is he very comfortable when talking to complete strangers asking him personal questions (haha) but that the level of respect that he treats everyone with is on a level that is rarely seen in today’s world. He is a very down to earth young man and the only thing I didn’t like about the talk was his choice in gaming systems – because everyone knows that the XBox 360 is far superior to the Playstation 3.
And before Steelers fans get up in arms about the Woodson/Sanders answer, I’ll be the first to say that he’s right. Deion gets the recognition more so than Woodson, and you can certainly make an argument for both of them, but Woodson’s appeal was his versatility, whereas Sanders was probably the better pure corner back.
He has a bright future with the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he possesses the build and instincts to line up on the outside with receivers, and is certainly a very fun person to interact with. The Pittsburgh Steelers certainly picked themselves a winner with a true sense of not only humility, but also honor.
You can find Cortez Allen on Twitter (And I highly suggest you follow him @ZetrocLequon