VandyMania: Ainsley, you've bounced around the NFL quite a bit the last few years, and last year you even decided to take some time off from football. Could you tell us the story of why you did that, and how you came to land with the Pittsburgh Steelers?
Ainsley Battles: Right now I'm on injured reserve, with an unfortunate hamstring injury. But the Steelers are doing outstanding. We're 9-1. We have a very, very good team. You may know I started with Pittsburgh a few years ago. I was released by them after my first year, and went to the Jacksonville Jaguars. I played there for two years, and then was released by Jacksonville. I was in training camp with the Buffalo Bills. While I was in training camp at Buffalo, I made some decisions for myself that I just needed to reassess where I was in my life and what my motivation was. I decided I was playing football for the wrong reasons. I took a year off from football and during that time I was able to clear my head and just get away from everything and find out what it is that I want to do, what drives me, and discover where my spirit was at. Through everything, it is football. So I just made a decision that I'm going to start working out and give myself an opportunity.
I just needed one workout. Just one workout was all I felt I deserved. I worked out and did everything I needed to do, just to be prepared. It just so happened that a roster spot opened with Pittsburgh. I got a workout, and I got a phone call. The coaches told me it was between me and another player. They couldn't promise me anything but an opportunity. But that was all I was looking for. I got to training camp and had a great personal trainer in Atlanta. I had a great support group of people around me. Jamie Winborn, I worked out with him. So when I went into training camp, the mindset and the focus and my conditioning-- where I was mentally, physically and spiritually-- I was able to make the team.
VM: What's your best memory of the Vanderbilt days?
Ainsley: My best memory? When we played the University of Florida my senior year. We lost 13-6. It was like Florida's lowest output ever under Steve Spurrier at the Swamp. They didn't even have one receiving touchdown. No other school ever did that against Steve Spurrier since he was at Florida. I remember the whole week. We had a bye week before we played, and that whole time we felt like everybody was on the same page. You were playing for yourself, the guy next to you, and your parents in the stands. It seemed like everything came together that game.
VM: I always wondered about that game, did you guys really know what play they were calling?
Ainsley: Yeah, we did! We knew exactly what they were doing.
VM: But were you stealing signals from them or anything?
Ainsley: No. All we did was, we watched film throughout the week of every game. During the game, because of the camera angles, you could see the audibles the quarterback was doing. We just took it from one game to the next-- does it hold up, is it true, what situations is it in? And we also had a quarterback [Tim Olmstead] who was in the system, and he could verify if it was right. We knew Steve Spurrier wasn't going to change anything. If you're going to beat him, he says beat me, but he's not going to back down.
VM: Is it too soon to be thinking about a Super Bowl for Pittsburgh this year?
Ainsley: It's still too early to tell. The strength of our schedule will reveal a lot of the character on the team. Playing as well as we did against teams like New England and Philadelphia were huge tests for us. But if we stay healthy and successful and don't really beat ourselves, the sky's the limit. But you've got to do it one play at a time, and don't get too high with the highs and too low with the lows.