Larry Foote was sitting on the bench before the start of one of the practices last week, a few feet away from a quiet LaMarr Woodley. But Foote was talking to a rookie, first-round pick Jarvis Jones, who was standing five feet away from both of them.
And Foote was dispensing wisdom – off-the-field wisdom – intermittently, as if he were testing Jones, daring him to leave and miss what was coming next.
Jones, who had said a few weeks earlier that he prefers the company of wise, old men, stuck around as Foote spoke about money, love, friends, and free time, until the horn sounded and the three linebackers hit the field.
If Foote’s warnings didn’t hit home with Jones, perhaps the stabbing over the weekend of Mike Adams did.
Foote took in both elements of that statement and was asked to spit out a comment yesterday.
“It’s hard being 33 and telling guys to keep their butts at home. When I was his age I was out, too,” Foote said. “I normally tell rookies not to be out with too many people. In Mike’s case, you wanted to be with more people. But, you know, when you’re in town, out with teammates, they have your best interest at heart. Back home, with your buddies from the ’hood, keep them at a distance.”
Jones knows most of this. He encountered some harsh realities while growing up in southwestern Georgia, near the Alabama border.
“The tragedy that happened, man, is never going to change,” said Jones. “I’m still devastated through it.”
Jones was 15 when his older brother – his “best friend” who had turned 19 that day – was murdered during an argument outside a bar.
“My family took a lot of fall from it, being that’s my oldest brother, my mom’s oldest child,” Jones said. “It happened on some humbug, something that should never have happened. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was one of those bad situations.
“I’ve grown over it. I turned it into a positive as best as I could. Even to this day I still talk to my brother. I just ask him to watch over me. I know he is. If he was here he’d be extremely proud of me.”
Within a half year of the murder, a troubled Jones was kicked out of two schools and was forced to find education outside of Stewart County. He had become friends with a counselor on the basketball team and moved into her home about 35 miles north in Columbus, Ga.
Shelley Stephens became Jones’ legal guardian and she steered him through Carver High and to USC, from where Jones had to leave after one year because the school wouldn’t clear him physically.
Jones’ well-chronicled problem with spinal stenosis had given USC officials pause, so he transferred to Georgia and ended up with the Steelers, where he looks, speaks and acts like the last person to have been kicked out of an entire county some eight years ago.
“I think everything that happened to me, and growing up seeing what I’ve seen, has matured me,” Jones said. “My brother getting killed, me getting kicked out of school, me going to USC, them telling me I would never play football again. I was 2,000 miles away from home with nobody there to support me. The coaching staff that recruited me was gone, so I was basically out there at USC by myself, so I had to mature a whole lot.
“And I don’t know, man, I’ve always been before my time, even my family looked up to me like I’m one of the oldest in the family even though I’m one of the youngest. I was just always mature. I always made some of the best decisions and tried to surround myself with positive people, so when I had to go through a situation, I could go talk to them and get a positive answer from them. I’ve just always been like that.”
And one of those positive people right now is Foote, who made his way through a rough Detroit upbringing to become one of the real leaders of these Pittsburgh Steelers.
Foote not only gave Jones the bad-neighborhood pep talk at just the right time, he was prescient enough to give Jones some financial advice a few days before the rookie was given a check for $4.7 million.
“I told him to save it, handle it like it’s your last contract, handle it like –
God forbid – you get a career-threatening injury and this is it,” said Foote. “This is how you’ve gotta live. Don’t be looking down the road like, ‘I can spend this; I’m going to make this.’ And keep your friends at a distance. Don’t give nobody no money. Bottom line.”
Jones, though, might have the better bottom line:
“I grew up around my grandma all the time when I was young. I listened to a lot of blues – Johnny Taylor, some of that old stuff. I watched a lot of gospel stuff, and just paid attention. I’m one of those guys who if I see three or four old men sitting over there I’m going to sit with them. Knowledge is power, man. I’m always willing to learn and hear different things. That’s what God gave me as well. I’m very thankful. Things have been going great for me in my life. I’m surrounded by so many great people who just keep blessing me.”