Pittsburgh Steelers, strong safety, Troy Polamalu had a very successful professional career in the NFL. Originally from Southern California and then Oregon, where he spent the majority of his athletic career, Troy received many honors that continued with him to USC.
Once a USC Trojan, he worked hard and earned Consensus All-American honors and is a two-time First-team All-Pac 10. When his college career was starting to come to a close, the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted him in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft. While in the NFL, Troy has been in two Super Bowls, eight Pro Bowls, and four First-Team All-Pro along with many other awards. After his twelve-year career in Pittsburgh, he finally retired and became a father of two. Recently named the new head of player relations for the Alliance of American Football (AAF,) Mr. Polamalu has had a colorful and successful career in many different fields. He and his wife Theodora are responsible for founding the Troy & Theodora Polamalu Foundation, which is responsible for investing both personal and donated funds in raising awareness for the less fortunate. To donate please go to http://www.polamalufoundation.org
With having young children, getting them involved in the discussion of sports and college scholarships is inevitable, however, what is the right approach to raising a great student-athlete? Is it to groom them from birth in one sport, or let them try every sport under the sun? Keirsten Sires caught up with Troy and sat down with the former NFL football player to discuss the recruiting process, why he chose USC, and how he got started in playing football.
Keirsten: How did you get started in playing football and did you play any other sports?
Troy: I started playing football from the bathtub. Since birth, my uncle, my cousins, and my older brother all played football. It’s deep within our family, and now even my wife’s family. Two of my brother-in-laws played at USC. One of them is in the NFL, and the other one is no longer in the NFL, as well my father-in-law played at Michigan.
When I was adopted by my aunt and uncle, who live in Oregon, they put me in sports right away. I played soccer, basketball, baseball, wrestling, and track. I did all of those all the way up until high school, and then in high school I only played three sports, which was basketball, football, and baseball.
I went to college to play football, but I originally went on with a scholarship to play both football and baseball. Once I got there, the football coach didn’t allow me to play baseball, and then he got fired, so I then played baseball for that lame duck period. Once coach Pete Carroll came through, he said I shouldn’t play baseball either, but up until that point I was at least a two-sport athlete.
I am all for children playing as many sports as possible, and I think it’s good for them socially. You have different friends in each sport, and some friends carry through, but, for me especially because I went to a small high school. We only had eighty-something people in our graduating class, but you still have different friends. Then there is travel ball, and all those fun teams, but I’m against a single-sport athlete.
Keirsten: What are your thoughts on youth specialization in sports?
Troy:Pressure comes in two ways; coaches in high school that are powerhouses in a sport, and they only want their kids to play that sport and nothing else because seasons overlap, or fear of injury. Which then pigeonholes them to play one, which is unfair. The other pressure comes from parents. You know that every parent believes their child can be a professional athlete, but I don’t think parents understand the commitment that it takes to be a professional athlete especially if you don’t have the talent. I have always thought of myself as someone who didn’t have the raw talent, so I worked hard in order to overcome what I believed was a deficiency for myself and I would work through it.
If a parent saw the amount of sacrifice that it took to be a professional athlete and the pressure that comes with it, I would doubt most of them would want that for their children. There is a lot of flash and pristine that a lot of people see from the outside compared to being the athlete. They are on TV, they have fame, but there is just so much more that goes into it. It would be similar to the way someone would feel by being a billionaire. Someone with a lot of money that can fly privately and is able to own many mega-mansions, but they don’t see what it took for them to earn money. For example, Bill Gates didn’t accomplish everything he has without sacrifice.
Keirsten: Can you speak about what your recruiting process? Did you get recruited for both baseball and football?
Troy: I played a lot of baseball, actually more baseball than football because the season went from spring time all the way through summer, until football season began again. When I was going through the recruiting process for football, I took four official and two unofficial. I went on officials to USC, Colorado, Illinois, and Washington State, and then two unofficial to Oregon and Oregon State. Even though I went to those school on unofficial visits didn’t mean I wasn’t really considering them, which I think is an important point for recruits to understand.
Keirsten: How did you come to the decision of going to USC?
Troy: One of the best pieces of advice that I have heard from my uncles is choose the university for the university. So take the coaches and football away, and then look at how your experience would be at that university. Then when I thought about it I knew that I could have the best experience at USC. It was in my favorite state, California and my family was in there. I grew up in Southern California, which has a ton of pollution, so when I got off my plane at LAX and smelled that pollution, I said ‘I’m home.’ I literally told myself that, and then that is when I knew.
The interesting part of why I chose USC is that it was by far my worst visit I had. I felt like they didn’t care about me and they didn’t care like the other universities did. The head coach at the time said, “Why should I offer you a scholarship? You come from such a small school and play against players who aren’t as talented.” He obviously ended up offering me a scholarship, which I was thankful for, but it’s an interesting situation to look back on because I loved USC.
Keirsten: Do you have any favorite memories while going through the recruiting process?
Troy: Yes, I do. When I went to Washington State I was their number one recruit, and they had me visit. Washington State is literally in the middle of nowhere and isolated from everything. I had an amazing host. He was an emotional leader and ended up playing for the Saints when they won the Super Bowl. While there, they threw a luau for me with about five hundred people. Since I’m from a small town in Oregon all I wanted to do was go back and order room service and watch movies because their movies were still in theaters. So the host said to me, “No, no let’s just wait around,” and I contested “No, no let’s go back.” I lost the argument so we waited until everyone was gone and it was just me him and the athletic director. Finally, they okayed us to leave, but they wanted to stop by another room first.
We opened up the door into this room and there was a big shrine in the auditorium. They had just won the Rose Bowl and there was the trophy that had my name, high school number with Roses all over it. Followed by this amazing picture, clapping started and it seemed surreal. All the people that were in the luau had migrated into this room. I walked to the middle of the and they started singing the fight song. I had the chills because it was so intense. Then, everyone started to walk towards the middle and this little kid comes to the middle of the room and someone screams out, “Hey if you commit you can give him the cougar hand shake.” Then I just remember saying I can’t, ‘I can’t commit to you without talking to my family first, but I’ll shake your hand.’ It was just a really cool story and a memory I’ll never forget.
Keirsten: How can LRT Sports benefit athletes?
Troy: I think hearing from other athletes is very beneficial. To be able to learn from other people’s mistakes, and to be able to have access to those voices is really helpful; especially voices that have been there and done that. It’s very important for people to have access to information that could benefit them, and in this case there are many voices that can help the next wave of athletes.
Keirsten: How do people increase their visibility if they don’t have the resources to make it to showcases?
Troy: I played a lot of baseball, actually more baseball than football because the season went from springtime all the way through summer until football season began again. When I was going through the recruiting process for football, I took four official and two unofficial. I went on officials to USC, Colorado, Illinois, and Washington State, and then two unofficial to Oregon and Oregon State. Even though I went to those school on unofficial visits didn’t mean I wasn’t really considering them, which I think is an important point for recruits to understand.
Keirsten: What is some advice you have for high school athletes looking to play in college?
Troy: To me whether your an athlete or not, the question is, ‘What is going to drive you to be successful?’ Is it hard work, dedication and sacrifice? Because it needs to be all of the above. For me, I was so focused on my craft that it usually didn’t matter what other people said to me. I was determined to work hard and be successful no matter what it took.
The advice that I find most important is to do whatever it is that can make you successful as an athlete. Which is the same thing that will make you successful as a student and vice versa, so that is why I think it is really important for someone to be an excellent student-athlete and not just an athlete.
Some people are blessed, and to build on that talent, you have to work hard. You may have to work harder than someone else in math to be special in math, and that is the same way it is with football. You have to put in the work to overcome competitions and God-given ability. It is the same characteristics that come with hard work, dedication, and sacrifice that are going to allow you to excel, and it has to be part of your game and your life, whether your a student, an athlete or a student-athlete. You don’t want to have the mentality that ‘I’m going to work hard at football and not work hard in school.’ It has to be part of you to become someone who is great.
Keirsten: What is one fun fact most people may not know about you?
Troy: I was in Playboy…because I was playboy All-American!
Keirsten: What was your favorite class you took in college?
Troy: That’s a tough one! I’d say Anthropology. I thought it was a very interesting subject. I also took Jazz Dance which was really fun.
Updated on 2/4/19
Edited by: Brandon Sires
Posted on February 4, 2019 in Half Time Talk
When doing research in the recruiting process for my daughter I came across the LRT Sports website. I was immediately intrigued as this was another dimension of the recruiting process that many people don't even consider. My daughter and I could "short list" schools based on the education she was looking for, as well as the opportunity to play her sport. LRT Sports not only gave us pertinent information into the recruiting process with different interviews of coaches and players, it also gave us insight into current and/or former players' opinions on the coach of that school in her sport. We could use this information to re-prioritize my daughters list of schools based on this feedback. I have many friends that are, or will be, going through this process shortly and I highly recommend using LRT Sports as part of anyone's recruiting process.
The college process presents a myriad of challenges. Factor in athletics and it becomes even more daunting. Now, add the fact that you have zero experience with sports. What is a the mother of a college bound student-athlete to do? LRT Sports has truly lived up to its promise. It has kept "the college recruiting process honest and easy by providing first hand information about coaches, schools and the recruiting process." Their interviews with current students, coaches, and professional athletes have provided realistic guidance. I am much more informed because of LRT Sports! The coach ratings are the most helpful. LRT Sports interviews allow us to hear from students as to how the adults are impacting not only their athletic experience but also how they are helping to shape their adult self.
The C.A.L.C. was thrilled to have Keirsten Sires come and speak to us on multiple topics relevant to high school athletics today, including recruiting. Keirsten reached all of our students and left them with great strategies that will not only help on the fields, courts, and mats, but also in the game of recruiting. She was a true professional and delivered a wonderful message.
Now that the recruiting process and the related stress is over, I wanted to thank you for your guidance. You did so much more than we had expected. Once you started the process by matching the best academic schools first, not the best sport programs, I knew you were the one. The way you laid out a timeline of contacting coaches, visits, and camps completely took any guesswork out of the plan for us. All of the student athletes that you put us in touch with gave us a look from the inside, and made us more comfortable knowing what was coming. Finally, using your website as a resource for knowing what to expect from different coaches based on former recruit reviews gave my son confidence before our meetings. There is no way we could have figured this out on our own, you really put us in a great position when decision time came.
I think hearing from other athletes is very beneficial. To be able to learn from people’s mistakes, and to be able to have access to those voices is really helpful; especially voices that have been there and done that. It’s very important for people to have access to information that could benefit them, and in this case there are many voices that can help the next wave of athletes.
If you have something that’s going to spell [the recruiting process] out for you… it’s so valuable. I think what everyone at LRT Sports is doing to spread the word and help advocate and educate athletes on the recruitment process is incredible.
Without question would have used LRT Sports. It would have probably been one of the most valuable tools that I could have had. If you want to know what these coaches are really like then I think this is the best tool out there. I’m really glad you are allowing recruits to have a resource like this moving forward.