by Eric Arbore
Toney Clemons grew up less than 50 miles from where he currently is displaying his talents to coaches in order to make an NFL roster. After leaving the New Kensington area for Ann Arbor, MI, and eventually Boulder, CO, Clemons finds himself back in western Pennsylvania on the fields of Saint Vincent College trying to make the team he grew up admiring.
“You’re watching some of the best players play for the best organization in the best football city in the country,” said Clemons. “I can’t even explain it or describe it.
“You come out here every day and just remember how blessed and fortunate you are to come and compete to be part of this organization.”
Clemons attended Valley High School, where he made 100 receptions for 1,541 yards and 17 touchdowns. He was also a four-year letterman in basketball and track & field. As a sophomore in 2006, Clemons claimed Class AA state championships in both the long hurdles and 110-meter high hurdles.
Ranked as a four-star prospect by Rivals.com and the No. 3 player in the state of Pennsylvania coming out of high school, Clemons attended the University of Michigan in 2007. He played in 19 games and made three starts before transferring to the University of Colorado in 2009.
The 6-foot-2, 210 pound receiver accounted for 86 receptions for 1,162 yards and 11 touchdowns in his two seasons in Colorado, finishing ranked in the top 20 in each category. He averaged 25.8 yards per scoring play. He also became the first person to play in the Big 10, Big 12 and Pac-12 conferences in a career as Colorado moved to the Pac-12 in 2011.
“(The NFL) is nothing like college,” said Clemons, who was picked in the seventh round of the 2012 NFL Draft. “This is something you’re trying to do to survive, and it’s a job.
“Every day is a competition and every day is a new challenge.”
The challenge for Clemons will be making the roster. The Pittsburgh Steelers have four veterans in Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery and Mike Wallace, if and when he reports. While he’s showed progress in a young group of receivers that head coach Mike Tomlin described as “largely inconsistent” behind the starters, Clemons is battling a handful of players for the fifth receiver spot.
“(Clemons is) a rookie so he’s still learning the ropes a little bit,” said safety Ryan Mundy. Clemons is the cousin of Kansas City receiver Steve Breaston who is Mundy’s former teammate at Woodland Hills High School and best friend. “He’s a hard worker, and he has a good attitude and when you combine those two things you know you’re bound to get better.”
While the Steelers wait for Wallace to report, however, the team will rely on young receivers to step into larger roles. Slots are open; players just need to prove they belong.
“There’s opportunities to make plays and show what you have,” said Cotchery, who is in his ninth year. “A lot of times you’ll see a lot of great things in practice, and they don’t quite translate to the games.”
“Now that (Wallace) isn’t here, we’ve got to go with the guys in the room,” added Sanders. “I feel like we’ve got a great core of receivers in there that are looking forward (to the game on) Thursday so they can show what their about and make a lot of plays.”
Clemons made the most of the few reps he received in practice Tuesday in anticipation of the preseason opener 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Philadelphia. In a two-minute drill, Clemons caught a bullet in the back of the end zone from Jerrod Johnson with cornerback Terrence Frederick draped all over him. The touchdown occurred on fourth down with a second left in the drill.
“Camp is one thing, but there’s nothing like going and competing against another team,” said Clemons. “To go out there and compete is a dream come true.
“I just want to go out there and have positive plays, no mental mistakes in the playbook, compete and play hard. Those are always the main goals.”
Eric Arbore is a senior Communication major from Derry, PA. Photo courtesy of Emily Slifka.
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