HARVEY | As he addressed the teenagers who came out to the Antwaan Randle El Sound Mind Sound Body Football Academy Saturday morning in the gymnasium at Thornton High School, the keynote speaker easily could have used any of a number of high-profile athletes to make his point about the dangers of being led astray, but he chose not to.
Antwaan Randle El, instead, focused on a positive way to view and handle life's many challenges.
"That's why we are here, young folks," Randle El said to the 200-plus youths in attendance. "This isn't all about football."
Randle El signed with his former team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, on March 8 after playing four seasons at wide receiver for the Washington Redskins. Randle El said he also considered offers from a handful of teams this spring, including Baltimore and New England, before deciding to return to the team with whom he won a Super Bowl in 2006.
"I just prayed to God to lead and guide me, and that is what he did," Randle El said. "Coming back to the Steelers was the best for me."
Though the Redskins released Randle El this spring, the former Thornton multi-sport star put up some of his best seasons, statistically, in Washington. Last year, he caught 50 passes for 530 yards and no touchdowns, numbers down slightly from his career-best 53 catches in 2008 or his 728 yards he compiled while a Redskin in 2007.
"When (former Redskins coach) Jim Zorn was there, he was hands-on," Randle El said. "He had great potential, but (Redskins owner) Dan Snyder was too involved because he didn't trust coach Zorn as much as he did coach (Joe) Gibbs, and those were things that prevented us from success as a team."
Randle El has already gone through June workouts with the Steelers, and he will return to Pittsburgh in two weeks to begin training camp. The Steelers will be without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was suspended for six games by the NFL for an offseason incident at a bar involving a young woman in Georgia. Randle El said the situation has affected the team, which needs Roethlisberger at quarterback this season.
"When mistakes like that happen, especially to athletes, we are held under a microscope like you wouldn't believe," Randle El said as he watched campers begin agility drills. "We know we have to watch who we hang out with and who we are around, because as athletes we are held to a different standard."