SnapShot: Rashad Faison

Rashad Faison didn't need to knock the sense, and the ball, from wide receiver Leonard Scott on the last day of minicamp. Without pads, Scott was a sitting duck. But Faison couldn't help himself. It's an instinct.

"My uncle told me a long time ago that in this game you either hit or get hit," Faison said. "So my philosophy is to take the initiative and go ahead and hit somebody because it's less painful."

It's a philosophy that turned into a reputation for Faison, who throughout his career at the University of South Carolina has been called the hardest-hitting safety in the Southeastern Conference.

"It's something you're blessed with," said the 5-foot-9, 197-pound strong safety. "You can't imagine someone's skill on the field unless you know their heart and nature."

Faison's nature has been to overcome adversity, and that's what gives this rookie free agent a chance to make the Steelers' roster.

When he was six years old, Faison sat in the window of his house in Wauchula, Fla., looking outside at his grandma talking to an insurance salesman, when a nearby drug bust went bad. An errant bullet missed Faison by approximately six inches and remained lodged in a wall for years, serving as a reminder to the family of what could've been.

"It could've easily been over then," Faison said. "That's why in this day and age you just take stuff as it comes and you have to be happy to get out there and play football, even to get a tryout."

Faison says it's helped shape his style of play.

"I look at it that way," he said. "Everybody says that I like to live on the edge, but I play football. I live on the edge every day. It's like running through a brick wall. Who would want to do that to their bodies? But the reality of it is I love the game."

As a senior, Faison was second at South Carolina with 93 tackles, giving him 348 in his four years as a starter. His yearly stats paralleled the team's rise from 0-11 in Faison's freshman year. South Carolina was 9-3 in 2001 – Faison's best year – but dipped to 5-7 as Faison's senior performance slipped because of injuries.

If his final practice at minicamp was an indication, Faison has fully recovered from an injured ankle. Not only did he shake up Scott with the hit, Faison intercepted a pass a few plays later and returned it for a touchdown. It was a significant play for someone who must show cover skills to make the team.

Of course, hard-hitting run stuffers are always welcome at strong safety. One of Faison's favorite college hits resulted in Travis Stephens' Tennessee helmet flying off.

"But my most memorable hit was the first game after our 0-11 season. We played New Mexico State," he said. "My cousin was the running back and we collided and knocked each other out."

When Faison came to, the USC revival was underway. His personal revival had begun well before then, though. After sitting out the 1998 season because of academics, Faison eventually graduated with a degree in African-American studies.

"All through high school I kept a good GPA but it was the SAT. I took it three times but didn't want to go to JUCO so I sat out the year at South Carolina," he said. "Overcoming adversity is something I've had to do in my life, like coming from a winning high school team to a 1-10, 0-11 team. It made me a stronger person because when you're strolling on campus and people boo you and stuff like that. It makes a better man out of you."

Jim Wexell

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