Getting drafted by an NFL team is a hard thing to do. Only 253 players each year get to experience that. Making a 52 man roster is ever harder. But that doesn't seem to bother Toney Clemons.
Just like last season, the Steelers are expected to keep five wide receivers. When you take the four veterans (Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery) they expect to have, it only leaves one spot open for seven guys on the current Steelers roster to find a full-time job.
Clemons, a native of New Kensington, PA knows he's a long-shot to make the opening day roster.
"It was dream when it happened," said Clemons after Thursday's OTA practice of being drafted by the Steelers. "But now I'm living in reality. Now I'm out here trying to get better."
Clemons was a seventh-round draft choice of the Steelers back in April and said he was shocked when his hometown team called just before making him the 231st pick.
"It was surprising. I was facing free agency. To get a call from the Steelers was unexpected, but I was fortunate to get it and it was motivating."
Like many college players who want to play in the NFL, Clemons spent some time visiting prospective teams. He only made three stops, with Pittsburgh being one of them. Despite the visit, he had no clue they were interested in drafting him.
"When I came in for my pre-draft visit, I didn't know what to expect," Clemons said. "I met with everybody and then they sent me on my way without any indication. When I got that call, it was a shock."
As for playing close to home, Clemons is not the only one who's enjoying the ride.
"My family is taking it in," he said. "I think they are just happy to have me home. I've been gone for five years and now I'm home, right down the road from them. I think they like the fact that I'm in the vicinity and they are enjoying the ride as well."
Clemons was a star athlete at Valley HS, playing under Randy Walters his senior season. Since he was drafted, Clemons finds time to workout with Walters as often as possible.
"He used to play quarterback and will throw routs. He knows some of the systems around the league and we work on technique and drills at my high school when I'm home."
Walters sang the praises of his former pupil.
"I think he was disappointed that he had to leave Michigan," Walters said. "But going to Colorado to finish was probably the best thing for him. When he got drafted, I sent him a text to congratulate him. He's really come a long way. He's extremely focused on work and doesn't need motivation because he's got a real shot at making the team. It's the little things that he's been working on that make a big difference in making the team."
Clemons is also aware that if he is to make the Steelers opening day roster, he will not only have to contribute as a wideout, but on special teams.
"It's an uphill battle and everybody is trying to learn," Clemons offered. "Of course you have those four veteran guys who are all great, but I want to show them I've got skills and can contribute away from the offensive side of the ball."
Ultimately if Clemons is to have a long career in the NFL, playing wide receiver is how he will make his money. But as a rookie, it's hard to get reps in. Late in Thursday's practice, he made a great catch over the middle of the field and used his speed to break away from the defensive back covering him.
"You can't count your reps, but you can make them count," said Clemons. "You've got to go out and make the most of it and that's what I try to do every day."
All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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