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“Coach Tomlin is That Guy!” A conversation with Steelers UDFA Alfonzo Graham

“Any way that can help the team improve and win and go get a Super Bowl, I’m down to do it.”

NCAA Football: HBCU Legacy Bowl Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Morgan State’s Alfonzo Graham was one of the 33 undrafted rookies who were invited to try out for the team at this month’s rookie minicamp. When the weekend ended, he was the only one to sign a Steelers contract. I talked to him after his first week of orientation.

Q: Do you have a number yet?

A: No, not yet. At rookie minicamp I wore number 29, but I don’t have a number yet.

Q: Back in the day, running back number 29 was Barry Foster. I don’t know if you know anything about his game…

A: Nah, I actually have seen him in the running back room, but I haven’t asked my coach about him yet. I see a picture of him in the running back room, so he must be legendary and great.

Q: If you had a choice of jersey, what would be your first choice?

A: Anything. Anything. Anything, honestly. Let’s be real. Anything.

Q: Well, let’s get real. Coming from Baltimore, no way you were a Steelers fan growing up, is that right?

A: That’s right. I definitely was a Baltimore Ravens fan.

Q: Obviously, you’ve watched some Ravens/Steelers games. Who were your guys on the Ravens?

A: Ray Lewis, Ed Reed. Jamal Lewis was good. Ray Rice, Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones. Jacoby Jones was just my coach, actually, at Morgan State.

Q: What were the feelings when you got the invite to come to Pittsburgh? Obviously excited for the chance, but there had to be something in the back of the head like, ‘man, not the Steelers.’

A: No, not really, because it’s like my dream come true. So it didn’t really matter about the grudge that I used to have, or how I used to look at it. It was just an amazing feeling and blessed.

Q: Let’s talk about coming into tryout camp. How were you looking at the other guys? Is it competitive, like, ‘only one of us will walk out of here with the deal?’ Or is it different?

A: Of course, I came with my own plans, but the biggest thing with me was just getting out here to compete, and to just learn from other players and soak up knowledge from the three days that I was around them. So I just came ahead with my own plan, which was to get signed, and just go out there and be me.

Q: Is it the mentality like, “I got to show them what I got at every moment,” or is it more like, “I came here to be myself. I know what I can do.” Is it kind of like that mentality?

A: Yes, it’s just one of those things, just knowing what I can do. They gave me a call, so they must have seen something that they liked. Why not come here and just be me and show them what I can do and what I can bring to the table?

Q: I know it’s still early in the process, but has anyone made an impression on you yet? Coach Tomlin? Coach Faulkner?

A: All my coaches are good. Coach Tomlin is definitely making a big impression on me, just how transparent he is and understanding. He’s helping me, and he’s got my back, on and off the field, for one thing. My running back coach is teaching me the game and getting me adapted to being a pro and how to go about being a pro.

Q: Coach Tomlin: is he larger than life, or is he just like any other guy in the locker room?

A: Coach Tomlin is that guy, man. I don’t even know how to explain it. He’s just that guy. He’s just a good, genuine person, a good spirit, a good soul. He makes you want to come to work every day for him. So it’s just great.

Q: It looked like they had some guys come in to talk. Was Clinton Portis there? Robert Golden? Did you get a chance to hear from any of them?

A: Yes, they came and dropped some great knowledge. It was for guys who were in their same situation. It was just some good knowledge for the rookies to hear, to soak up, and to use some of that knowledge to give and to do the right thing.

Q: Let’s talk about some on-field things. We know what you can do with the ball in your hands. What about special teams beyond just returning? Would you play any role in special teams?

A: Yes. I used to play gunner. I can play gunner. I can run down on kickoff. I’m not afraid to tackle. I can bring many different things anywhere on special teams. I feel like I can fit and contribute to the team and make a highlight play. It doesn’t really matter to me. Any way that can help the team improve and win and go get a Super Bowl, I’m down to do it. I would love to be a returner and be able to score touchdowns, but I wouldn’t mind actually blocking for the returner, either.

Q: What about the cafeteria, do the Steelers feed you well?

A: We eat good in the cafeteria. The chefs are amazing. There are some great vibes in there, and there’s great food in there, coming hot and ready.

Q: Is it whatever you want, or is it just salmon, chicken, broccoli?

A: They have different meals every day. The other day we had salmon and chicken, but everyday they’ve got something different that they’re cooking in there.

Q: What are your goals for the next month? What do you hope Steelers fans get to see from you?

A: The goals for the next month are just to be a great teammate, produce for the team, just be myself, go out there and play football like I’ve been doing since I was five years old. Of course, one of my goals is to make the 53-man active roster. It doesn’t matter what position I’m in. I just want to contribute to a Super Bowl. That’s one of my biggest goals.

Kyle Chrise is the host of the SCN podcast “What Yinz Talkin’ Bout.” Listen to the Alfonzo Graham interview in Thursday’s episode.