Snapshot: Nik Embernate

Steelers guard Nik Embernate said his last name is pronounced "Ember-naughty," but that we can call him "Ember-nasty."

The team's best-paid undrafted rookie free agent doesn't mind re-telling the story of how he earned that nickname.

"It wasn't one of my prouder moments, to say the most," said the 6-4, 304-pound pulling guard from San Diego State.

"I was kind of a hothead my freshman year," he said. "We were going to run a play on quick, and one of our fullbacks jumped but I didn't hear the whistle. So I took my dude and sent him to the ground. Some of their guys came over and started kicking me while I was on the ground, so I got up and threw a punch, and that was the end of that.

"Like I said, it wasn't one of my prouder moments, but I didn't know how to control myself when I was young. I was able to get better and control myself."

He was just a freshman. He lost his temper and was ejected from the game, but he did pick up a cool nickname.

"It's stuck," said Embernasty. "But I don't think anybody here knows about it."

They will, if he continues to play as aggressively as he did as a pulling power guard for four years at San Diego State.

In his last game, the Poinsettia Bowl, Embernate looked like the better pro prospect than his counterpart that night, Ziggy Ansah, who became the fifth pick of the draft in April.

"It was one of my best games, but it wasn't THE best," Embernate said. "I felt like I played consistent that whole year. It was a good opportunity to play against him. When our tackle got hurt and I had to move to tackle I got to play against him a little bit more."

Embernate showed that night that he's versatile enough to move to tackle. After all, he went to SDSU as a tackle. But he also showed in that game that he's a natural guard for a power-based offense.

That would've made him a natural fit in Pittsburgh – before the Steelers decided to use more zone blocking up front.

Will this new emphasis lessen Embernate's fit with the team?

"I've just got to adapt the way I can, just be the best player I can," he said. "When I played at San Diego State in my last year we did a lot more zone blocking. I'm getting used to it."

Embernate grew up in the desert outpost of Yucaipa, California, some 75 miles due west of Los Angeles. The Polynesian tattoos on his smooth white skin tell of the son of an Alabama-born mother and a Hawaiian-born father, whose own father was born in the Philippines.

There wasn't much more for the young Embernate to do in the desert other than "play sports, ride horses and ride dirt bikes." He developed his love for football – for contact in particular – as a two-time All-County tackle and captain at Yucaipa High. At San Diego State, the early lesson about overaggressiveness didn't soften his thirst for contact.

"Yeah, football's a violent game," he said. "It's played at 100 percent. You can't be soft and play football. You have to love contact, love to hit people. That's what I like doing."

And that's why he's looking forward to training camp next month. During spring drills, Embernate played third-team right guard for the Steelers. He said he picked up the offense with the help of some of the older players. Not that overcoming adversity has ever been a problem. Tattooed amidst the Polynesian symbols on Embernate's right arm is something philosopher Albert Schweitzer once said:

"One who gains strength by overcoming obstacles possesses the only strength which can overcome adversity."

"I saw it a while back," Embernate said. "I looked at the quote about every day for a year. I wanted to get it tattooed on me, but I wanted to make sure I really loved it and kind of wanted to live by it.

"I mean, going through adversity, the small obstacles in your road, only prepares you for bigger obstacles, adversity, that you face later down the road."

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