The standard is the standard.
Every Pittsburgh Steelers fan knows that aphorism, one of longtime head coach Mike Tomlin’s favorite quotes.
And last week, several graduates of Pittsburgh International Airport’s PIT2Work program, the new standard for workforce development, met the man himself during a visit to training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., where the Steelers honored them for their accomplishments.
Organized through Darrel Young, the team’s director of player development, three PIT2Work graduates—Emily Feroce, Devin Hale and Duane Primus—enjoyed VIP access during the last day of camp, standing a few feet away from players and coaches during practice and joining them afterwards for handshakes and laughs.
“I thought we were going to be up in the stands watching,” Primus said. “I didn’t expect to be walking around on the sidelines at all.”
The trio were among the 12 members of the first PIT2Work cohort, which had graduated less than two weeks earlier. The program, in collaboration with the Builders Guild and nonprofit Partner4Work, provides free training in the skills and certifications needed for jobs in the construction industry. The program is part of the airport’s workforce development initiative that breaks down barriers to entry.
“The Steelers are a global brand and really important to Pittsburgh, and when they endorse something and say, ‘We think what you’re doing is special,’ that gives it validity and credibility,” PIT CEO Christina Cassotis said.
“It’s incredibly important for the (airport) team, but more important for the graduates to be acknowledged by the Steelers that they’re doing something special.”
Many of the program graduates already landed jobs in their new career fields. Feroce will soon join them.
“I interviewed with the carpenters (union), I got accepted and I got my apprenticeship,” she said.
Going to camp
The graduates were greeted by Young upon arrival. After a stop at the food trucks, he escorted the group to a reserved tent just a screen pass beyond the eastern end zone of Chuck Noll Field.
The fans and cold water inside were a boon on a sunny 83-degree day, but cousins Primus and Hale stood as close as they could to the field to see the action.
Primus, who sports a tattoo of a Steelers helmet on his right calf, peered at a roster card provided by Young as he tried to keep track of the dozens of players on the field, many of whom were trying to make a professional football roster for the first time.
“I really want to see the defense out there,” he said. “My favorite players are always on the defense.”
Feroce, like Primus and Hale, had never visited training camp before. She said she’s not much of a football fan but thought the excursion could spark more interest in the sport for her.
“I was really excited,” she said, standing on the sideline as the team went through drills. “It’s very cool to be here.”
The visit highlighted the ties between the Steelers and the airport authority and their joint goal of elevating Western Pennsylvania on the world stage.
In July, Daniel Rooney, the team’s director of business development & strategy and great-grandson of franchise founder Art Rooney, joined authority staff on a trip to Ireland to promote the ties between the region and the Emerald Isle. The Steelers recently were awarded rights to expand their brand and activities there as part of the NFL’s “Global Markets Program.”
Rooney also stopped by the tent to greet the PIT2Work graduates and shake hands.
Meet and greet
At the conclusion of practice, most of the couple thousand fans in attendance lined up at fences along the field and began calling out to their favorite players and asking them to come over, seeking autographs and selfies.
But Feroce, Hale and Primus just strolled right onto the practice field with Young.
Before they got far, backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky greeted the group and congratulated the trio on their new careers; in addition to Feroce’s job with the carpenters, Primus is joining the Teamsters and Hale the laborers union.
A minute later, Tomlin walked over in his signature aviator sunglasses to say hi and pose for photos. The coach, who will likely become one of the 10 winningest coaches in NFL history this season, encouraged the graduates to stay focused and keep working hard.
As Tomlin zoomed off in a golf cart, Primus approached All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and asked if he could get a photo with him, a request Fitzpatrick quickly indulged.
“That’s my favorite player,” Primus marveled, looking at the image on his phone afterward.
More players wandered over to the group, including running back Najee Harris, wide receiver Calvin Austin III, and potential Hall of Famers and defensive stars Cam Heyward and T.J. Watt. Feroce, Hale and Primus took photos with all of them.
“Thanks for all you do for our community,” Heyward said to airport staffers.
Hale, who played in two state championship football games as a lineman in high school, got his wish to meet Watt, who at 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds is even bigger in person than he looks wearing pads on TV.
“I’ve never been to a Steelers game,” Hale said, despite being born and raised in Pittsburgh. “I guess that’s the next thing I’m going to have to do.”
Earlier in the day, Primus’ son texted him a photo from Kansas City, where he was visiting his best friend Skyy Moore, a wide receiver for the Chiefs who grew up in the Pittsburgh area.
The photo was of the Super Bowl ring Moore earned last season—it was about the size of a toddler’s fist and glittered with jewels.
As the PIT2Work team settled onto a shuttle to take them home after practice, Primus was happily shuffling through all the photos he took from the day and deciding which ones he was going to send to his son in return.
“He’s got the ring, but I’ve got the players,” he said. “Today was just amazing.”