Tuesday, April 22, 2014
The career accomplishments on Ryan Steed’s Pinewood Prep hall of fame plaque stretch from top to bottom.
It takes nearly an hour for him just to make his way toward the door after the induction ceremony. Friends, family, former coaches and teachers all want a moment with their former high school star.
The hardwood accolades speak for themselves. Three state championships in three years; his basketball legacy is already etched on the gold plaque hanging in Pinewood’s halls. But the former two-sport star is far from satisfied. He’s fueled by a dream that lives on the football field.
So while his high school celebrates his athletic career, standing at the podium, Steed assures everyone “there’s still a lot of work to do.”
The line between dream and reality is faint.
Steed knows what the NFL feels like. He’s strapped up the pads and come running out of the tunnel onto an NFL gridiron. He’s collided with some of the world’s best athletes in the NFL’s cathedrals. Even today, as he works out at Mount Pleasant Town Hall, his clothes still bear the NFL shield. His ultimate dream, as far off as it may sometimes seem, has been in his grasp before.
“It really didn’t even set in at first,” he said. “To say I had the opportunity to play in an NFL game is an honor. It’s something a lot of the world can never say they did. But it’s bittersweet at the same time because I feel like I have so much more to prove. I haven’t been able to show the NFL my full throttle yet.”
Steed entered the 2012 NFL Draft as an FCS All-American cornerback out of Furman University. He was projected to be picked anywhere from the third to seventh round. When his name wasn’t called on draft day, he signed with the New York Jets out of college and was regarded as a potential steal of free agency. The 6-foot, 195-pound defensive back spent four months battling injuries with the Jets but was released a week before the season opener.
He seemingly found a home with the New Orleans Saints, signing a two-year deal in December 2012 but was slowed by a torn groin and waived by July 2013. He joined the Pittsburgh Steelers for training camp a week later but was once again released a week before the season opener.
“It’s been an emotional rollercoaster,” Steed said. “I’ve been so close. Every time I’m hitting the weight room or on the field working out, I think about those teams passing over me in the back of my mind. That’s what drives me now.”
Steed’s first true loves were soccer and basketball.
Growing up in Mount Pleasant, he excelled in the AAU circuits. By eighth grade, he was playing basketball for Wando High School and already garnering college attention on the soccer field. Then he discovered football.
“Ryan was always very athletic and very involved in everything,” said Lisa King, Steed’s mother. “He got involved in sports by three years old and loved playing everything. He didn’t start football until Moultrie (Middle School) but when he did it was like a light came on for him.”
In high school, Steed gave up soccer for football and immediately made an impact as a freshman for First Baptist’s varsity team. He shined even brighter on the basketball court and after one year, transferred to Pinewood seeking tougher competition. He continued to flourish at Pinewood, earning all-state honors in both basketball and football.
As college basketball recruiting letters flowed in, he became convinced his future was in basketball. He gave up football his junior year, but an unofficial basketball recruiting visit to Virginia Tech gone awry rekindled his interest in football his senior year. While on campus in Blacksburg, a town known better for football than basketball, Steed re-evaluated his college options and his future and returned home focused on football.
Months later, he was selected as defensive MVP of the Shrine Bowl all-star football game competing against the best preps in the state. He went on to accept a scholarship to Furman University where he was a three-year starter, two-time team captain. He was selected as an FCS All-American his senior year and finished third in school history with 14 career interceptions. He was one of just a handful of FCS players selected to the Senior Bowl college all-star game and the third player in school history to be invited to the NFL Scouting Combine.
“With Ryan, it’s a combination of physical tools and intangibles that makes him such a good player,” Furman head coach Bruce Fowler said. “He’s an extremely smart player who understands the game, but he runs well, he’s physical and has excellent work habits.
“He’s somebody you knew would get an opportunity. He’s proven he’s capable of playing professional football. Now that he’s been through the process, he’s gained some perspective and I think he’s probably as mentally prepared as he’s ever been.”
Steed worked out for the Dallas Cowboys in September 2013 after leaving Pittsburgh but admits his head wasn’t in it by then. He returned to Furman to work out and finish his degree and began debating whether to start planning for life after football before the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League came calling.
“In Dallas, I was already feeling kind of dejected by the whole process. I wasn’t in the right mindset,” Steed said. “When you work so hard for something and it’s right in front of you and doesn’t happen exactly how you want it, it’s definitely not a good feeling.
“I always believed in myself though. I’m a believer that everything happens for a reason and I’m stronger now for what I’ve been through. I’m not looking at Calgary as a last chance. It’s just the next chance.”
Calgary has a longstanding tradition in the CFL, including six Grey Cup championships and producing several NFL Pro Bowlers. Steed is scheduled to report to training camp on May 28.
Until then, he’s training six days a week. He says he’s in the best shape of his life and is as healthy as he’s been since college. Running hand-timed 40-yard dashes at town hall, he clocks in the 4.4-4.5 range, some of the fastest times he’s run.
“I’m not going to make friends. I’m going up there to be the best corner in the league,” he said. “I’m still in the thick of this thing. I’m still hungry. I know what I’m capable of. Right now, it’s a 100 percent, pedal to the medal, as hard and as fast as I can go to chase my dreams.”