Snapshot: Mike Humpal

As we do every year at this time, presents its Snapshot series of features on the Steelers' rookies. Today: Mike Humpal.

Since he's coming to the Pittsburgh Steelers from the University of Iowa, Mike Humpal won't have to change any of the color schemes preferred by his family, friends and fans. He's going from black-and-gold to black-and-gold.

"Yeah, it's nice," said the sixth-round pick. "One less thing I have to adjust to."

Humpal is adjusting to a pro career as an inside linebacker in the Steelers' 3-4. He was the weak-side backer in Iowa's 4-3 and led the Big Ten in tackles per game (11.8) within the conference. He was the Hawkeyes' defensive captain and defensive MVP, and was a two-time Player of the Week in the Big Ten. One of those two games netted him Bronco Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week honors. It was an 18-tackle performance against Illinois and running back Rashard Mendenhall, the Steelers' first-round pick.

"It wasn't a one-man show by any means, but, yeah, it was one of my better games," Humpal said.

He also had a sack and a fumble recovery. Mendenhall carried 15 times for 67 yards (3-27 receiving) in Iowa's 10-6 upset win.

What about Mendenhall?

"When you tackle him, he's bringing it," Humpal said. "He's just so fast and explosive. You couldn't arm tackle him. He has very good balance."

Humpal was a two-year starter at Iowa for Coach Kirk Ferentz, the Erie native and Steelers aficionado.

"Coach Ferentz respects this program a lot," Humpal said. "He told me I was going to a good program, and I respect his opinion. He's been around and he knows a few things."

Humpal won the Hayden Frye Award for -- according to the university -- "giving that little extra at all times," and the Iron Hawk Award for "giving his all on every play all season and representing the school in an exemplary way."

On the field and off, Humpal excelled at Iowa. He was a four-time Academic All-Big 10 and graduated in May of 2007 with a degree in Health and Sport Studies. He began working on his master's degree in sports management last fall. He hopes to use it some day to become an athletic director or coach.

Humpal is 6-2½, 244 and was timed in the 40 at 4.84 seconds. Wearing No. 55 he brings former Steelers ILB Jerry Olsavsky to mind. Olsavsky once overcame a serious knee injury to become a starter with the Steelers. Humpal has also recovered from a serious knee surgery called an osteotomy.

"I was having knee issues, cartilage issues in my knee because I have bow legs," he said. "It was really bugging me. My knee would flare up."

Doctors drilled through his right tibia to straighten out his bowed leg.

"They straightened it out and then they put a plate and screws in it and then it healed back," Humpal said. "They changed the alignment in my leg and the stress on my knee's different then, so that area of my knee that was having all the stress, because of the realignment, the stress is off of it."

He had the surgery done in January 2005 and has since played three seasons. This is the start of his fourth season and he said his leg is stronger than ever.

Humpal was a star athlete at New Hampton High School in Iowa. New Hampton is in Northeast Iowa, 40 miles north of Waterloo. It's a farm town of some 3,600 people.

"I graduated with 115 in my class," Humpal said. "There are stoplights in town. A lot of people in small-town Iowa joke about whether they have a stoplight or not because everyone's in a small town in Iowa. But we've got stoplights. We're not that small."

Surrounded by cornfields?

"Yeah, but we've got a McDonalds and stuff like that," he said. "We're up with the times. It's a nice little town. The people are nice, very supportive. Athletics are really big in the town. There's a strong wrestling tradition there. The football tradition is growing still."

Humpal began wrestling when he was four. His three older brothers were all wrestlers and Mike went on to win two state titles. He also won two silver medals in the state 110-meter high hurdles.

"I guess it's an odd mix," he said of wrestling and hurdling. "I was 200-205 at the time, so I was wrestling a little bit underweight and then for a sprinter I was probably heavier than most guys.

"Hurdles was a fun event. You don't think of track being a physical sport, but with those hurdles you've got to be aggressive and attack, kind of like football. People who run hurdles understand that. You've got to come after them; otherwise they'll eat you up."

The athleticism has added up to a run-stopping inside linebacker who can cover tight ends. But that was in college. Can he do it in the NFL?

"Things are going good here, real good," Humpal said a few weeks ago during spring drills with the Steelers. "They threw a lot at us, but you just keep to the grindstone and go one step at a time. Now it's a lot better; I have a much better understanding of the defenses and what's going on and where I fit in."

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