Q: You went to Skyline High School in Oakland (Ca.), the home of the legendary … ?
A: Forrest Gump?
Q: No, Marvel Smith.
A: Oh, yeah, Marvel, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Q: Forrest Gump?
A: Well, Tom Hanks did go there.
Q: I don't suppose there's a statue of Marvel at the school?
A: No, but there are a couple of pictures of him up in the coach's office; one while he was at Arizona State and one while he was with the Steelers.
Q: Have you talked to him since you joined the team?
A: Yeah, I did talk to him. Actually, he bought my college (team's) bowl rings a couple of years ago. He comes around a lot. He runs a camp at our high school every summer. I talk to him a lot actually. We've been communicating since he's been in camp. I'll text him or phone him or when I go home I see him in person and we talk. He's a great guy.
Q: That's right, you two went to the same junior college, didn't you?
A: Actually, we just played for the same coach. Our high school coach became the head coach at the junior college (Laney Junior College).
Q: So you played high school and JC ball for John Beam?
A: Yes. We won championships every year except for one year, my junior year in high school. Both years in junior college we won conference and bowl games. In three out of four years in high school we won the conference.
Q: How good of a coach is he?
A: He's a great coach. He taught me the game of football, everything from being physical to using speed, everything. He's just a great coach.
Q: What did Marvel say to you about joining the Steelers?
A: He just said it's a blue-collar town, it's a great team, a great organization, that I'm really going to like it, and that I'll fit in great with my work ethic and how hard I play and practice, and so far it's so true.
Q: Marvel grew up in a real rough part of Oakland. Did you grow up nearby?
A: Yeah, I was right there in the same neighborhood, West Oakland, grew up there all my life. By the blessing of God I was able to overcome a lot.
Q: How bad is it there?
A: It's pretty rough. I had a friend, a real close friend, get a scholarship to the University of Oregon and he was shot and killed the night before he left. I had another friend who was supposed to leave for Arizona State University and he was shot and paralyzed two days before he was supposed to leave. There are a bunch of stories like that, a bunch of friends who ended up dying, growing up and falling short of dreams and aspirations. Yeah, there are rough conditions around the neighborhood.
Q: If you fall short here, do you have to go back to that?
A: No, luckily I got my college degree. God has a plan for me. Right now, I'm here and trying as hard as I can to make this ballclub. But God always has a plan for me. I've grown up in church and I've been successful at everything I've done in life. When something hasn't worked out, I've overcome a lot. To say I'll fall short right now …
Q: Let me put it this way: When you make this team, will you get the rest of your family out of there?
A: Yeah, obviously. You know, that's a great motivating factor. I have two younger brothers back home and I think about them every day. Talked to them last night and school is getting ready to start and I just miss my time with them. I hope they're doing well and I try to give them positive thoughts about, you know, how to just overcome everything. Sometimes people aren't mentally strong maybe as I was, to say no to certain things, or certain friends, or certain things that can get you caught up in going down the wrong path. I try to talk to my brothers and tell them that if they want to do something positive in life, this is the road they need to go.
Q: How old are your brothers?
A: One is 17. He's actually at the junior college with my coach now doing a real good job. And I have a 10-year-old brother.
Q: How good's the player?
A: Oh, he's a real good player. He's about 6-5, 285.
Q: Are we going to be hearing about him?
A: Yeah. He's a true freshman now.
Q: Do you want some of that 6-5?
A: (Laughs) Ah, you know, maybe an inch or two.
Q: What was the key? The church? Your mom?
A: I had a great supporting cast, and when you have a great supporting cast, every time you want to fall back you've got a brick wall that keeps pushing you forward. It's hard to fall back with my grandmother and my mother and my aunt. And my high school coach always stayed on top of me. There were times he beat me up and cussed me out, but it was a great job by him. He mentored me. He was the guy telling me that if you want something out of life, if you want a scholarship, this is what you have to do: You have to go to school, you have to get good grades, you have to stay out of trouble. That was something that I dearly wanted, a scholarship, and listening to him helped me get on that road. He gave me his word that if I did everything I could in the classroom and on the field that he would be able to get me a scholarship. And when that time came, he delivered.
Q: Was USC out of the picture because of grades? Is that why you went to junior college?
A: No, actually I went to Cal-Berkley out of high school.
Q: Marvel could've gone there, but he said he needed to get out of the area. He said it was the best move he made.
A: Yeah, obviously I ended up leaving Berkley and going to a junior college and then going from junior college to UNLV, which was a great, great move. I really enjoyed it. Not just because it was Vegas, but because it gave me a chance to get away from home. It helped me mature, you know, getting away from my family and taking care of business. It gave me a great opportunity to mature and grow up.
Q: When I saw in Steelers Digest, under the heading ‘What will you do with your rookie bonus?' that you answered ‘Pay off all my credit cards.' I was worried that you may have gambled too much in Vegas.
A: Nah. When I left town, I stayed on my own. I didn't go back home. I figure once you leave home, you stay on your own. At one point I was working two jobs, going to school, and it was in-season. So I wasn't sleeping at all, and after a while it gets tiring. I just paid about two credit cards worth of rent, and after a while you still got ball, you still got school, no time to work anymore, so it just stacked up.
Q: But you're sure your brothers are cool?
A: Yeah, they're doing real good.
Q: You and Marvel must have lots to talk about. I presume Marvel understands everything you're going through?
A: Yeah, he does, he does. He's a great guy and gives back a lot back home and the people back home really love him.