SnapShot: Russell Stuvaints

His phone won't stop ringing because his family and friends from McKeesport are either a.) Deliriously happy their boy is with the Steelers, b.) Looking for tickets, or c.) Both. <br><br> He's a little busy, though. The former Tigers running back is immersed in his playbook. He's still trying to get the hang of his new position at strong safety.

If it sounds like the story of Mike Logan, you're right. Logan even had to stop and think for a minute.

"It's really weird," said Logan, "What are the odds of two people coming from the same high school, playing for the same professional team and playing the same position? I'm just going to help him anyway I can."

Following in the nearly exact footsteps as Logan (6-1, 210) is Russell Stuvaints, a 6-foot, 208 pound rookie free agent with the Steelers.

Stuvaints, like Logan, was a running back at McKeesport. In fact, in 1997, Stuvaints broke Logan's single-season rushing record at McKeesport with 1,214 yards. Stuvaints played outside linebacker at Youngstown State, where he made 194 tackles in 38 games. He was signed by the Steelers after last April's draft and moved to strong safety.

"He'll hit you," is the theme of his scouting report. Here's how Logan described Russell Stuvaints at the end of the Steelers' spring practices:

"He's a young guy who's eager to do the right thing. He's asked a lot of questions, asked about some of the things he could do extra. What I told him is, 'You're a rookie free agent. You have to do all the little things. You have to go to special teams coaches and ask where you can help. You have to accept the criticism you're going to get as a young guy.' I think he's doing well right now."

Logan had one more bit of advice for his protégé.

"He's open-eyed, real eager to make plays, real aggressive. I said, 'Look, we've got training camp and it's going to be a long time from here. Just get yourself mentally prepared. All the aggressive stuff will happen later on.'"

The Steelers are looking for that kind of aggressiveness at strong safety. It's the one opening on their defense since Lee Flowers left as a free agent. The Steelers list Logan, a backup the last two years, as the first-teamer, and behind him is first-round draft pick Troy Polamalu. Stuvaints is battling another undrafted rookie, Rashad Faison, for practice time.

"I'm learning everything," Stuvaints said during the final week of spring drills. "I feel a little more comfortable out there. I'm doing OK. I've still got a ways to go, but I'm doing OK. I'm ready to make some plays."

At Youngstown State, Stuvaints was a reserve for the 1999 Division I-AA runner-up. He moved into the starting lineup late in 2000 and was an honorable mention All-America in 2001. Last year, he started all 11 games and led the team with 62 solo tackles and forced a team-high four fumbles.

"It was a great place with great tradition," Stuvaints said. "As you might know, our coach (Jim Tressel) moved on and won a national championship. That shows you what kind of ball we were playing, what kind of coaching we were getting. It was a great experience."

As a boy growing up in McKeesport, Stuvaints "loved the Steelers forever," he said.

"How could you not? When we lost the Super Bowl, I was heartbroken."

At the time, he had dreams of playing running back in the NFL, like his favorite player, Barry Foster. Stuvaints was in seventh grade when Foster set the Steelers' single-season rushing record with 1,690 rushing yards, which still stands. Five years later, Stuvaints broke Logan's prep record at tradition-packed McKeesport, which also still stands. The record withstood younger brother Ricardo Stuvaints' best efforts over the last few seasons.

"He came close," Stuvaints said. "And he's a really good back. He's at Valley Forge prep school right now."

Has Stuvaints talked to Logan about the record?

"We'll talk about it in time," Stuvaints said. "It probably wasn't a big deal to him. He was already at West Virginia making big things happen there. He was actually in the NFL already. I remember the banquet and the principal saying, 'He broke Mike Logan's record and he's in the NFL. Maybe he has those kinds of talents.'

"I always dreamed of getting to the NFL ever since I was a little kid. Man, seeing guys from our high school go to big schools and continue on to the NFL, such as Brandon Short -- who's my step-brother through marriage -- it's an inspiration to me. Seeing Mike and Brandon out there has kept the dream going."

Jim Wexell
Steel City

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