Polamalu lets his hair down

<b>LATROBE -</b> Troy Polamalu knows the pressure of being a No. 1 pick in the NFL. He dealt with it all of last season, when many labeled him a bust because he didn't break into the Steelers' starting lineup.

But the quiet and introspective Polamalu is unlike most NFL players. Though he doesn't lack confidence, he's like a scientist on the football field. He not only wants to know what he's supposed to do, he wants to know what everyone around him is to do as well, while also knowing why that particular play was called.

That quest for knowledge probably slowed down his maturation as a player last year. But Polamalu has stepped onto the field this year at St. Vincent College a different player, one ready to step into a leadership role with the Steelers.

Following is a transcript of an interview I conducted with Polamalu after waiting a full half hour after a morning practice while Polamalu - the last player left on the field - went through his own personal workout:

There was a quote from Mike Williams in the offseason after he declared for the draft saying that guys got complacent at USC and that had you been there, it wouldn't have happened because you would have called them out on it. Would that have been the case had you seen guys slacking off?
TP: Yeah, definitely.

You were a more vocal guy there?
TP: It's unfortunate, but in football, you don't have guys who are leaders from the bench. It's the guys who are productive. I was obviously pretty productive at USC and people listened at USC.

When I see a guy like yourself out here working after practice, long after everyone else has left, is that the kind of thing that can be contagious if you start having the success everyone expects from you this season?
TP: I think it was contagious at USC. I started doing it my freshman year and more and more people started staying out and our team became a lot closer. Our program started being more successful and I think all of that is linked together. Obviously it's very hard for me to be in a leadership role here because I haven't really been productive enough to be in a leadership role. That's unfortunate that it should have to be that way because it shouldn't have to be that way, but that's the way sports are.

Do you see yourself taking that next step this year?
TP: I don't know. I've definitely trained all offseason and done all the little things I think I need to do. It's all in God's hands, but time will tell.

I have to ask you this because my wife asked me, what's up with the hair? She said isn't he worried somebody's going to pull him down by his hair?
TP: There's quite a few people in the league who do have long hair.

But last year Ricky Williams had a problem.
TP: Yeah, Ricky Williams had the issue, but I don't know.

I guess if you're getting tackled by the hair it's because something good happened.
TP: Yeah, it would be a great thing. Does my hair stick out more than theirs or what?

I guess it's because nobody in Pittsburgh has really had the long hair sticking out like that since probably Kevin Greene. Even Fu's wasn't that long.
TP: I just let it grow throughout college and I was so focused on school and football I didn't care about anything else really. My physical appearance lapsed and I just let it go.

When was the last time you had it cut?
TP: About two and a half years ago.

So you're kind of line Sampson here now?
TP: Yeah. It's almost become a part of me. People wouldn't know me if I shaved my head.

What kind of kind of goals have you set for yourself this year. I know you're a very structured guy, you had to have laid out some pretty structured goals.
TP: Mainly team things. We have all the tools team-wise that it takes to be a Super Bowl-caliber team. But there's a lot that we still need to work on. The talent is obviously there. Unfortunately, nobody on this team, just some people in the organization - some of the trainers and doctors and Mr. Rooney himself - know what it takes to win a Super Bowl. Coach Cowher and a few of the guys on this team have played in Super Bowls, but never have won one. We're all going to have to make some sacrifices, whether it benefits somebody else and lessens ourselves or vice versa to become a Super Bowl-caliber team.

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