Seizing the Moment

December 6, 2009

To call Steelers' defensive end Brett Keisel an overachiever would damn him with faint praise.

Don't misunderstand, though. Keisel has achieved quite a bit in his first seven seasons of professonal football and, midway through his eighth-all with the Pittsburgh Steelers-there are no indications he will be slowing down any time soon.

The problem with calling Keisel an overachiever is that it suggests he achieved more than was rightfully his, more than he had worked his tail off in order to achieve. Make no mistake, Keisel has put in the time and effort required to achieve the pair of Super Bowl rings that are a part of his jewelry collection.

"It is amazing really," Keisel said about a career that began as a seventh-round draft pick by the Steelers in 2002. "It's been awesome because I had to work my way up to this point. I had an opportunity on special teams my rookie year. I didn't even dress for half the season, until someone went down with an injury. That's what this league is all about: getting an opportunity and seizing it."

Keisel always had the talent to succeed in the NFL, but he had to persevere down a long road in order to make it happen. He seized the first opportunity, as he mentioned previously, on special teams during his rookie season. Subsequent shoulder surgery shelved him in his second season, and he spent all of 2003 on the team's Reserve Injured list.

After that experience, Keisel's days on the inactive list were over, except for injury- related scratches in 2005 and 2008 (ironically, the team's two Superbowl seasons during his tenure). Breaking into the starting lineup was his next goal, but he served as an able-bodied backup in 2005, when he recorded his first sacks as a pro. Keisel jumped into the starting lineup in 2006 and has been the team's starting right defensive end ever since.

Any Steelers fan knows the 2005 season was special in its own right, because the team won its last four games to make the playoffs and won three AFC playoff games on the way to a Superbowl XL victory over Seattle in Detroit.

Along the way was an AFC Championship game win in Denver, and Keisel played a big part in securing that win with a pair of sacks, a forced fumble and four tackles.

Fast forward to Nov. 9 of this year and the Steelers' trip to Denver to take on the Broncos. Keisel, who hails from Greybull, Wyo., had two sacks to make a significant contribution to the Steelers 28-10 win.

Is there something special to him about playing in Denver?

"Yeah, definitely," he said. "That's the closest we get to my home state of Wyoming. There's always a Keisel group there to support me. It just adds extra motivation when I know my wife is there and my mom and dad and brothers and sisters and their kids are there watching, so I want to put on a good show for them."

Part of that show was a salute for the military, which also has a special place in Keisel's heart.

"I have a lot of respect for our armed forces," Keisel said. "My family, my dad and his brothers and my mom's brothers have all been a part of the military in one form or another. The military has always been a part of my life. I have a lot of respect for the men and women who are out there protecting our rights."

Steelers' nose tackle Chris Hoke knows all about Keisel and his affinity for playing well in that part of the country. Hoke was Keisel's teammate at Brigham Young before Hoke joined the Steelers a year before Keisel arrived.

"I don't have any wild stories," Hoke said. "He was a guy you could always depend on. He always seemed to make the big play when you needed it in college, and he's doing the same thing here in the NFL. He's a very friendly guy, but you can tick him off in a heartbeat. He has a short temper and you see that on the football field at times."

"I've got a switch in me, that's for sure," Keisel said. "I think I try to keep it holstered as much as possible when I'm not playing. When we get out there and compete, I switch into a different cat, I think."

Hoke made the team as a free agent in 2001 and was estatic when the Steelers selected Keisel in the 2002 draft.

"I was very excited when we drafted him," Hoke said. "I called him right away. We hung out a lot when he first got here. We'd go to dinner, just talk a lot about what's going on in the NFL because I was just in my second year. It was great to have a guy here you have history with. It's kind of hard when you first get to the NFL, because you don't really know people, you don't know what relationships are, but to have a guy here you already knew from collge was a big help."

Keisel was considered the best high school athlete in Wyoming, where he starred in football, basketball and track. He was an All-Wyoming tight end/linebacker at Greybull High School and went to Brigham Young. Along the way, he transferred to Snow College, but returned to BYU.

Keisel thinks the move may have cost him on draft day. Not the move to junior college, but the move he made while in junior college from tight end to defensive end.

"I think the biggest thing was I went to BYU to play tight end," Keisel said when asked about lasting until the seventh round of the 2002 draft. "Basically, it was a big reason why I chose to go there. Halfway through, I ran into some problems and I had to go to a junior college, Snow College, for one semester.

"When I went down there, they switched me from offense to defense. That was the first time I had switched since high school. That was like the greatest thing that ever happened to me. I started playing defensive end and played pretty good down there. Then I came back and finished two years at BYU."

"I had a solid year my junior year at BYU, but my senior year I was nicked up a little bit, had a lot of injuries. Plus, we had a lot of great players who were first-and second-round draft picks who I think got a lot of the attention. It was the biggest blessing in disguise, really to slip to the seventh round and come here and have an opportunity to win championships. "

Keisel likely will settle back in Wyoming when he retires from football, but likens his second home in Pittsburgh to life in Wyoming.

"It's not that different from here," he said. "People are hard working, down-to-earth people. You don't have to have a lot of things or be that flashy, just go about your life and live happily. I think that's why it's been fairly easy for me to come here and be able to relate to a lot of these bring-your-lunch-pail-to work type of people around here."

Keisel credits a lot of hard-working down-to-earth people in the Steelers' locker room over the years with helping him to make him the player he is today.

"Obviously, around here, you have great leadership," Keisel said. "Ever since I was a young kid coming into this league, I was able to look up to and work with guys like Aaron Smith, Kimo von Oelhoffen, Casey Hampton and Coach John Mitch (Assistant Head Coach John Mitchell) and Chris Hoke. I mean these guys have done nothing but pull me under their wings and help me with the little things that are going to help me on the field. To be able to go out and compete with these guys on Sundays is an absolute joy for me. My daddy taught me since I was young that things are never going to be easy, but you can go out and get what you want when you work for it. That's just how I always approached things."

"I really love being a player for the Pittsburgh Steelers. It's kind of something I try to embody in myself and in my teammates. It's a pleasure to work for this organization, to be a part of something that is great. A lot of us here are going to be two-time championions for the rest of our lives. We're hoping for more of that, but you don't get this type of atmosphere everywhere in this league. It really is a blessing to be a part of it."

Keisel and his wife, Sarah, have a one-year-old son named Jacob Cassius Keisel. Brett and Sarah were childhood sweethearts who named their child after their great, great grandfathers. Having a child is another of the many blessings Keisel has had bestowed upon him.

"It's kept me home a lot more," he said with a laugh."I don't know if my wife likes that or not, but it's been great to have a son and have someone who is really half of you. To be able to watch him progress and grow has been the greatest blessing of my life. I thank God every day for that little fella and for my wife, too. It's just been great to come here and start my family here in Pittsburgh.

"I'm a huge Cassius Clay fan. He was the greatest of all time, in my opinion. But that's not really the reason Jacob's middle name is Cassius. Jacob is his first name and we got that from my great, great grandfather, and Cassisus was my wife's great, great grandfather, so it worked out well."

Like most other Steelers' players, Keisel is involved in charity work in the Pittsburgh area. His work involves homeless children. More specifically, it entails clothing and sheltering homeless children and helping to educate them.

In October, Keisel offered assistance to a man with a similar cause who was coming through Pittsburgh.

"His name is Tellman Knudson and he's running across America barefoot to try to raise awareness and funds for homelessness in our country," Keisel said. 'I've been involved here for about six years now with homeless children's education. It was just my way of going out and supporting him and his efforts and getting a little jog in on my day off.""

Keisel hooked up with Knudson and jogged with him on his way through the city. He also offered heavy support to an auction for homeless children.

"A lot of these kids who are in these shelters, they really had no say in the matter," Keisel said. "They are born into homelessness. To be able to provide them backpacks and shoes and clothing and tools they need to go to school and be social, it's something I take a lot of pride in."

Keisel and the Steelers agreed to a contract extension prior to this season that will keep the defensive end in his No. 99 Steelers jersey through the 2013 season. He said his affinity for Pittsburgh, the team and its ownership made it easy for him to stay here.

"Yeah, because I love it here, I love my teammates," Keisel said. "I love going out to work with these guys and I love the people upstairs. I've just really enjoyed my time as a Pittsburgher. I just hope we can continue it."

For the record, he wouldn't mind at all retiring as a member of the Steelers.

"I hope so. I still feel like I have a lot of football left in me, so I would like nothing more than to finish with that No. 99 and the hypocycloids on my helmet."