Interview transcript: Christian Scotland-Williamson, tight end for the Pittsburgh Steelers

Liz: Welcome to the show Christian,  How are you?

Christian: I am very well Thank you How are you?

Liz: I’m good Yeah, we’re obviously in very strange terms at the moment with Coronavirus, how are you finding it?

Christian: It’s been challenging had some personal issues with both my parents contracting COVID-19 so that was a challenge in itself but it was one of the positive stories and they’re doing much better now. So it’s a huge relief, especially this far away.

Liz: Yeah, definitely. That’s it. It’s really hard when you can’t be there. So yeah, I’m glad to hear they’re on the road to recovery. That’s really good.

Christian: No, definitely makes my life a lot easier. Especially being so far away.

Liz: Yeah, God.  Absolutely.  Now you and I, we first spoke in November 2018. Which is crazy because it doesn’t actually feel like that long ago. 

Christian: Wow, so much has happened since then.

Liz: Oh, my God, I know. So, at the time I think you were only really a few months into your practice squad contracts. So how’s it all been going?

Christian: It’s been amazing. I was actually speaking to one of the other international pathway guys yesterday. And so Jordan who got drafted by the Eagles, and it’s so strange because rookie minicamp is this weekend. And it was only two years ago that we were both in our first ever football practices. But then now, like we’re kind of seasoned pro, understand the system where it just become normal. And I think that’s been the strangest thing because when you look at it objectively, it’s only been two years of playing a sport that people have been playing for their whole lives. You’re now at a stage where it feels normal and it feels comfortable. So that was that was really comforting and to think yeah, that we only spoke in November 2018 when I was still definitely finding my feet trying to put the right foot forward. A lot has changed since then. Definitely a lot more comfortable, a lot more confident within my surroundings and with the system.

Liz: Oh, good. And so from what I understand, you’re on a reserve/future contract. So I guess that means you’re fighting for a spot on the squad. Now, you’ve got this experience under your belt now so you know what to expect. How would you say that your mindset has differed? And what feel you need to do in order to take that next step?

Christian: It’s a huge mind shift because in that first year, you don’t understand what’s coming your way you don’t really understand football, you don’t understand was it’s like living in another country for starters, like that’s my first time living abroad. So a lot of kind of life stress thrown at us well as football stress, new job and you’re playing at the highest level and then going into year two, that kind of went away where I knew my surroundings, knew my environment, was comfortable with the system, and with my second year playing football, but it wasn’t until, I think, probably in the September so I think I had a very good offseason camp into training camp. But then it was after I think week four of the season, things really started clicking, I started making more plays in practice. And I wasn’t as kind of stressed going into practice or in my execution because things started feeling more natural. Whereas in that first year, I really had to concentrate to just step with the right foot because it was so foreign to me to have that level of detail and prescription with my movements. So that was a huge advantage for me in that second year. And now, having had my second offseason under my belt, and being able to break down the playbook even more just filled me with confidence, because I know the system. And I know what’s expected of me and what I’ll need to do to win a job. And so now it’s made me more comfortable in almost how I was back when I was playing rugby where it’s now just solely on execution as opposed to upskilling myself. Just learning football. So it’s definitely a much more confident position that I’m going to be approaching this season with.

Liz: That’s good. And I imagine you’d be putting yourself through both a testing and tiring time. What motivates you and where do you find your inspiration?

Christian: So I’m a big family guy, huge, huge family guy. That’s pretty much my one and only motivation of everything I do in life. And it’s gotten me through a lot of kind of challenges and adversity within my career and beyond. And so it’s always that I came out here with a purpose came out here with literally one suitcase and a dream, two and a half years ago, so January 2018. Yeah. And it’s to come back having kind of made this successful experience and become a fully-fledged American football player. So whenever I’m having those kind of down days or a few dark days, or things aren’t really stacking up in terms of my practices, I have like one bad practice or something like that. I always remember why I’m here, and the sacrifices, and the sacrifice of time with my family and things like that. So that’s really what keeps me going and make sure that I’m reminded of the reasons why I’m out here and it makes it a bit more enjoyable as well because you know, there’s only a moment in time you can only be a professional athlete for so long. So you might as well make the most of it and then having the love and support my family back home makes it so much easier.

Liz: And is there anyone in the squad that you look up to, that is helping mentor you through all of this?

Christian: I’ve been so lucky with landing at my dream organisation so I was a Steelers fan from my teenage years and that end up playing for them, especially having never played football before and it just doesn’t really make sense to me still. But within that the organisation is so supportive and the players in the locker room so like for me and my tight end room have had Vance McDonald, Jesse James, Xavier Grimble, who really helped me out in that first year where I really didn’t have a clue what I was doing to be honest. Then, so being around those guys as well as like David DeCastro, Al Villanueva from online, and Maurkice Pouncey. Just having those guys to see what pro-bowl and like all pro work ethic looks like and attention to detail. And have the opportunity to pick their brains occasionally at lunch has been huge for my development because you have such high level athletes around you. You can’t help but raise your level to a level that is going to be so much better than it would be if you weren’t surrounded by those guys.

Liz: And how’s life living in Pittsburgh? Like how much does that differ to what you’re used to back home?

Christian: It is is different. I’ll be honest, I’m a homebody as well. And so I’m not really out about like adventuring too much. But yes, I kind of just train and then come home really most of the time, but I do really like it. A lot more space than London. I played rugby for Worcester, for four years so that had a good amount of space there but it’s just more finding a good routine, a productive routine and then really lucky got great teammates I like hanging out with so keep it pretty low key really

Liz: Now, I obviously don’t know what it’s like in Pittsburgh but in the UK obviously being locked down we’re only allowed our for what, one hour of exercise and that kind of thing. What’s it like there and  what is it you’re doing to keep motivated – because that’s that’s a tough one on its own. What are you doing to make sure that you’re still in the physical shape you need to be in?

Christian: Yes, definitely challenging with the stay at home order, because you can’t really go to the gym. So it’s been what I suppose last six-ish weeks doing home workouts, bought an exercise bike to try and stay on top of my cardio. And I’ve been lucky because I’ve played rugby for so long. And then now I’ve come and started as a professional football player I’ve been able to develop really good habits. So I know what it takes to get myself in shape and to keep in shape. So it’s not been terrible it’s just have to make some smart decisions and then you have to play at the hand you’re dealt and understand this for the greater good and it’s for people safety that the lockdowns in place. So, kinda have to, obey the rules, and then just hope that when things do open up again, that you’re able to hit the ground running and you’re not too far behind.

Liz: Yeah, absolutely. And I guess in  normal circumstances, what would you tend to get up to in your downtime? What kind of things do you enjoy?

Christian: A lot of reading. I read a lot. I do a lot of reading. Just because I’m a student of the game and a student of life really, because I like to learn. I just finished Mike Tyson’s book. That was pretty intense. I’ve enjoyed that thoroughly. But I just like learning about people who’ve done some rare feats or achieve those lofty heights of success in sport or business and careers. And I think you can always learn from other people’s experiences. So I tend to read a lot of kind of personal development books, biographies, and then even everything I consume. I watch a lot of documentaries as well. So I probably say, yeah, that’s what I spend the majority of my time doing if I’m not facetiming home and some of my friends. But because you’re training for most of the day or watching film, or doing things associated with football, there’s only about three or four hours a day usually under normal circumstances that you have to fill the time with leisure activities. So yeah, yeah, I usually try and be quite productive.

Liz: Yes, I was going to say, most people would probably answer that with “Oh, I play PlayStation or Xbox”

Christian: I was talking to one of my college friends, uni friends about it because there’s a few new consoles coming out and I said to him that last time I played Xbox was Xbox 360 my first year of uni so 2011 I think, and since then I haven’t played and I played one of my teammates at FIFA and obviously being an English guy had to win – but I went one nil down at halftime and I just realised, yeah, this isn’t for me anymore because I haven’t played for so long and I was like, I can’t watch myself, I’m losing really badly. So the whole console thing and gaming’s gone for me now, I think

Liz: Now, let’s talk about the international player pathway programme. So last month, the NFL announced players from around the world joining teams. So having been through that yourself, what advice would you offer to those people?

Christian: I actually had the chance to talk to them all, for the week before found out where they were being allocated and what their vision was, and especially ‘I want this one’. They always tell them is that, there has only been, I think 16 people who’ve been that route. So 16 people who come into the NFL at the highest level from various backgrounds, some of which have never played football before. This year’s group had all had an understanding and played football in some capacity. So it wasn’t exactly going in from ground zero. But the biggest thing I always said to them was understand that is a very fortunate position that you’re in. And people have been working their whole lives to get into an NFL facility, even into a practice. So don’t take a single snap for granted, especially when things aren’t going your way you’re not going to walk in be the guy like this is never going to happen. And you need to work towards making yourself a better player and a better person from it. Because in the last two years, I’ve learned so much about myself in terms of how I deal with adversity, how I deal with setbacks, now I can, you can kind of stare in the face of it and keep coming back for more and not get disenfranchised with it or forget why you’re doing it. I think that’s the biggest thing because they’ll be going up against the highest level of competition they’ve ever seen in their lives. Even if I compare this to when I was professional rugby player, it’s a completely different level. Just the expectation, the precision, the level of competition that’s demanded on a daily basis, like it’s just not the same in other sports. And I think that’s what makes NFL so unique. Because it is that hard is that competitive that when you have the opportunity to be part of an organisation and take the field, you really are in a rare space and you can’t take that for granted because you don’t know how many more opportunities you’re gonna get.

Liz: Yeah, god, absolutely. And I guess, when you look back at your journey, be it the Worcester Warriors, or here in the NFL. Is there anything that you think you’d do differently?

Christian: I’ve been quite fortunate in that I don’t really have many regrets in life. My route has been a securitas weird, very difficult route to get here. Like I wasn’t an academy prospect in rugby, I just went to uni, I went to Loughborough, hoping to just play for fun, really, that’s what I was doing. And then the phone rang one day in my final year in September. And I got a phone call it changed my life. I went down to Worcester, played for their reserve team, went back the next week, and then three weeks later signed a professional contract in the changing room before my first team debut. So within six weeks, I went from having interviews with investment banks, for grad schemes to playing professional rugby and knowing what I was going to do at the end of that year – playing professional rugby throughout my final year of university. So things happen pretty quickly for me. So in that regard, like the only thing I suppose that could have happened differently was maybe I got seen a bit earlier, but I feel like I wouldn’t have had the same breadth of experiences that I’ve been able to have today in terms of my personal life like I’m not someone that has only known sport, which has really been a blessing because when times aren’t going that, well, within the sport, I’m able to have a different perspective because I haven’t been, like my parents didn’t put any pressure on me to be a professional athlete. No one thought I was going to be professional athlete, it’s all just stuff that I’ve done myself, which is a very unique space to be in because a lot people have the external pressure of a family, friends, expectation and all that. I played with fun. I still play for fun and that’s my main driver. I don’t consider what I do work really because it’s something that I’ve never had I never thought I would have the opportunity to do. So I don’t take it for granted and I know it won’t last forever. So I don’t really have any regrets with that and I wouldn’t really have done anything differently because If you told me, going into my last year of university, when I was just playing for the first team, that I’d end up being a two sport professional, as well as been able to go back to the Uni, get my masters as well, while playing at the same time. Like, I definitely take that so don’t really have any career regrets.

Liz: Are you studying at the moment? Or have you finished it now?

Christian: I’m always studying, I’ve always got something on my sleeve. I just get bored very easily. I think that’s what I’ve realised. It’s so funny because I finished my undergrad and I said ‘Right, that’s me, I’m done, finished’ and then realise how much time you have, a lot more time as professional rugby player than you do as a football player. Like when in season as a football player pretty much 6am to 6pm in the building my routine and then you go home recovery in bed by 9pm like you don’t have time, and that’s six and a half days a week. But you do have a long offseason. So you can explore different things in that regard. But yeah, as realised that like I said, because I have always, even at school, you go to school, you play sports on the side. Schools the work side, sports is the fun break, and then it just got flipped because I started my main kind of bread and butter was sport, but it still was my fun pastime. I felt like I had so much more spare capacity to kind of take on some more, I suppose, mentally challenging tasks, so I’m always up to something.

Liz: No, that’s good. Gotta keep the brain sharp.

Christian: Don’t want to be wasting away!

Liz: No, absolutely. Well, listen, it’s been fascinating speaking to you like every time we talk you just come across so passionate about it and just really calculated to it in like a good way, so no, it’s fascinating. You know, hope everything goes well for you in a better look at the season head.

Christian: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me on again. It’s been amazing.

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