Part of a semi-regular series of short interviews with Steelers players. Today: Second-year cornerback Cortez Allen.
Having only played one year of varsity football, the Ocala, Fl. native Allen was recruited by such noted college football powerhouses as Bethune-Cookman and Colgate before enrolling at The Citadel, the storied and academically elite military academy in Charleston S.C., where he initially aspired to be an engineer.
Drafted in the fourth-round by the Steelers in 2011, Allen was regarded as a 'sleeper' pick and saw action in 15 games during his rookie season, primarily on special teams, and helped keep the Patriots' potent passing attack in check by being a thorn in the side of tight end Rob Gronkowski (as seen above).
This season, Allen is challenging Keenan Lewis to be the starting cornerback across from Ike Taylor, but figures to be the Steelers' primary nickel back.
1: The Citadel isn’t exactly a charm school – do you ever tell the guys you play with that they were too pampered at whichever major colleges they played? How did that disciplined environment shape you?
ALLEN: (Laughs) Nah, I never tease the guys about that but it does prepare you as far as being mentally tough. I feel like just coming from that type of situation, I handle things a lot differently than some other guys on the team. I deal with adversity a little different. I feel like I’ve benefited a lot from that.
I don’t take much for granted, and I’m no stranger to hard work. Coming from a small school and a military school like that you learn how to appreciate the smaller things in life and everyday I’m out here working, I take that into account that it’s a blessing to be here just coming from that situation. I give everything I’ve got in everything I do.
It’s not for everybody. But being there you develop a certain mental toughness just to deal with things – it’s a military school as you can imagine – uniforms, formations, drills, stuff like that. Its just something that you have to wake up in the morning and say, OK I have to get this done – A, B & C – and manage your time. There’s a lot of skills that you learn that carry over into football.
2. Citadel graduates talk about earning their ring. Can you talk about what that means?
ALLEN: That’s what you work for. You graduate with that ring. It’s a symbol for all the cadets that have been through that process – anyone whose graduated from there recognizes that ring. It’s the thing that brings us together. That’s what you fight for. That’s what you push through all the nonsense that you might go through there.
It’s a big sigh – once you put it on, it's like ‘I made it’ then everything that you’ve gone through – all the times that you may have wanted to quit or may have been like what am I doing here – you look at the ring and that achievement of getting that and you’re like, its was all worth it.
It’s not for everybody, but its worth it.
3. Ike Taylor is another fourth-round draft pick from a small southern school -- has he shown you the ropes on being an NFL cornerback?
ALLEN: In the offseason I actually trained with Ike, and I talk to Ike quite a bit about football in general – how to get better, things like that – he’s a guy that I look up to on the team as far as in my development. He’s very influential and beneficial to me in my growth, so I attribute a lot of that to him.
& OUT: Is there anything behind your first name?
ALLEN: It’s just a name that my mom fell in love with out in San Diego and I think she said she got it off of a building. There’s nothing behind it, it’s not the explorer.
(Have you visited this building?)
No -- I need to. I should put it on my [bucket list].