There was a time, about five years ago, when William Gay was a very respectable candidate for Pittsburgh's most hated sports athlete.
Sure, he had no chance of beating out the likes of Bruce Arians, Bob Nutting and Marc Andre Fleury, but for a cornerback--one who wasn't even in the Steelers starting lineup a good deal of the time--it was a pretty remarkable feat to receive so much hate and vitriol from the fans.
Gay's struggles in 2009 after assuming the role as Pittsburgh's No. 2 corner following the free-agent departure of Bryant McFadden are well-known (so is the fan wrath that accompanied the struggles). And they were further cemented the following year, when Rob Gronkowski victimized Gay three times in a memorable home loss to the Patriots on Sunday Night Football. (By that point, Gay was relegated to nickel back upon the team re-acquiring McFadden in a trade with the Cardinals during the 2010 NFL Draft.)
However, starting in 2011, Gay began to make strides under the helpful eye of Carnell Lake, Pittsburgh's new secondary coach, and quite frankly, had a pretty decent year, intercepting two passes and recording 14 passes defensed, as per Pro Football-Reference. Gay had such a decent year in 2011, he followed the route taken by McFadden and parlayed it into a contract with the Cardinals in 2012. But, like McFadden, Gay struggled in his only season in Arizona and found himself back with the Steelers the following year, after being released.
Since returning to Pittsburgh, Gay has started 24 games in two seasons. It is true the defense has struggled mightily during that time frame, and Gay's play wouldn't necessarily be considered elite for his position.
But Gay has turned himself into a fairly dependable and reliable player for a secondary that's sorely lacking in both areas. Gay has only recorded four interceptions since re-joining the Steelers, but all four have been returned for scores--including three a year ago, as Pittsburgh made the playoffs for the first time in three seasons.
It would have been easy for Gay, a fifth round pick out of Louisville in the 2007 NFL Draft, to disappear upon his initial stint with the Steeler in-which he failed famously after being handed the job as a starter one year after the Super Bowl XLIII triumph. It may have been easy for Gay to just fade into oblivion after failing to produce at an optimal level during his only season in Arizona.
For that matter, it would have been easy for the Steelers' brass to chalk Gay up as a has-been or never-was and move on to someone else to try and invigorate the much-maligned secondary two offseasons ago.
As the Steelers prepare for the 2015 season, the secondary is still much-maligned, and the questions are still plentiful. However, when it comes to Gay, he's not much of a concern these days. In-fact, he's pretty far down a list that includes Cortez Allen, Mike Mitchell, Shamarko Thomas and now Senquez Golson.
The Steelers have yet to release their 2015 depth chart, but it's safe to assume Gay's name will be first at one of the two starting corner spots. Gay has come a long way. He's now 30 and a savvy veteran who seems to have a knack for making plays at key moments.
Is William Gay a star? No. But he sure is hard to keep out of the lineup, and that speaks volumes for the type of player he's turned himself into.