Free agent safety looking for impact

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a tradition of playing hard-nosed, smash-mouth football. To excel as a Steeler, a player has to embrace the physical side of the game, crave it even. Steelers fans, meet Mike Lorello.

PITTSBURGH – For Mike Lorello, it was a natural progression.

As a kid, he thought about nothing except soccer. Although he led his elite club soccer team to five consecutive state championships, being a standout goalkeeper didn't quite fulfill his need physical contact.

So he went on to the next logical sport – lacrosse.

And that's how Mike Lorello's childhood went at Kilbourne High in Ohio.

Lorello played basketball, soccer and lacrosse in high school, but never really found his true calling until a friend begged him to try the ultimate contact sport -- football.

"I was always looking for something in which I could hit people," Lorello said. "(Goalie) was really the only contact position in soccer so that's why I played that position. After that, I gave up soccer and started playing lacrosse because it was more of a contact sport. I just like contact."

But lacrosse never fulfilled the need either. So a friend suggested playing football and as Lorello put it: "I really never looked back after that."

Lorello went on to be named two-year all-Ohio Capital Conference and was twice named Kilbourne player of the year.

His senior year he led his team to a berth in the state playoffs as he recorded 110 tackles, six interceptions and two blocked kicks. He was named first team all-Ohio and went on to play four years at West Virginia University where he got the reputation of a hard-hitting safety who likes to make plays up the field.

And it all started with the need for contact. That need for contact was something that Lorello always had a thirst for, even as a kid. While his parents, who live in nearby Steubenville, were huge Steeler fans, Lorello wasn't very interested.

"Growing up I played soccer and that was probably one of the reasons why I never became a huge Steelers fan," Lorello said. "Growing up it was the sport I played and I was pretty good at it, but I wanted to hit people more. I am more of a physical player. When I get pads on I feel like playing run support is one of my strengths. I try to be a smart player out there. I try to put myself in the right positions to make plays."

Now the Steelers newest rookie free agent safety is hoping that he will put himself into the right spot to make a team loaded in the position.

The Steelers already have Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, Tyrone Carter and Mike Logan at the position while drafting Anthony Smith in the third round of this year's draft. The numbers aren't in Lorello's favor.

"I think it is going to be real tough to make this team," Lorello said. "There is a lot of competition. Everybody here is the best of the best. If I can do anything to separate myself from the rest of the team then that's what I am going to do."

It didn't take long for Lorello to do just that in his transition from high school to college. He was a three-year starter and a two-time All-Big East safety. He led the Mountaineers in tackles last season and posted a career-high 106 tackles as a sophomore at his bandit safety position.

But playing the bandit position in college is an entirely different position than what the Steelers play with both their strong and free safety positions, which may present a problem for Lorello in the early going of training camp.

"Coming from college I played in the same system for four years," Lorello said. "I really didn't even have to think when I was playing. I was there so long that I knew it but now learning more complex things and stuff is hard. This is professional football and it is hard mentally. Everybody talks about how tough it is mentally when you take the next step and they really can't prepare you for how hard it is."

Being a rookie free agent isn't a death sentence, especially when it comes to the Steelers. There have been numerous rookie free agents that went on to make the team including current players Willie Parker, Dan Kreider and James Harrison.

However, Lorello knows that he needs to make a name for himself on special teams to have a legitimate shot of making the team. He was on the punt, kickoff and kick return teams while at West Virginia and with his penchant for contact, could turn into a stud special teams player.

"I will do anything to make this team," Lorello said. "Even before the draft people were telling me if I would be a rookie free agent that it wouldn't be the end of the world. Sometimes it is better than being drafted late. I got to choose the best situation for me with what offers I did get. The Steelers have a history of being free agent friendly. Coach (Bill) Cowher was a free agent. What I heard is that you get treated better here as a free agent than you would any other place in the league."

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