The Pittsburgh Steelers tabbed former U of L cornerback William Gay late in the fifth round of the 2007 NFL Draft. It was a bit of a surprise for the 5-10, 190-pound former Cardinals' standout.
"I was shocked that I got drafted, period," Gay said. "I wasn't supposed to get drafted - that's all everybody said. I'm just blessed and happy I was selected."
He has gone through his first NFL mini camp and has participated in some voluntary training sessions with team members in Pittsburgh.
"There is a lot thrown at you," Gay offered. "I'm just excited to be in a helmet and cleats again - throwing the ball around and catching it and covering receivers again."
Not long into his first official practice as a member of the Steelers Gay found himself lining up at cornerback with the first-team defense.
"I'm sure they were testing me to see how I'd respond," said Gay, "They threw me into the water to see if I could swim."
The Steelers like Gay. He's not particularly fast - he ran a 4.49 40-yard dash at the NFL combine - and he's not particularly big. But he has a way of always being around the football.
In his final season at Louisville, which culminated with a 12-1 record and a win over ACC champion Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl, Gay ranked among the NCAA leaders in interceptions with six. He also broke up another 13 passes, several of which could have added to his interception total. That earned him the nickname "Big Play."
"My strength is being out there and being smart," Gay said. "When you are on the island you've got to be smart and know what you are doing."
So far he has impressed Steelers' defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.
"He looked pretty good out there. He made some plays and got his hands on the ball," LeBeau stated.
When he was drafted, Steelers defensive backs coach Ray Horton indicated that Gay could make a big difference on the Steelers' special teams - a glaring weakness for the Black & Gold last season.
“He'll be a holdup. He'll be a flyer. He'll be a kickoff guy. You can compare him somewhat to Chidi (Iwuoma). He may not be as dynamic as Chidi. He's not a return guy, but he will be a core special teams player," Horton opined. “He'll be a gunner on the punt team, and then on the punt return, he'll be a holdup guy. On the kickoff team, he'll be one of the outside guys. Kickoff return, I'm not sure if he'll be a front wedge guy or not, but he has that capacity. Again though, (he's) probably not a return guy.
Gay is ready for the special team’s work.
"It was required for us to play special teams in college," Gay explained. "Regardless if you were a four-year starter or a freshman coming in you had to play special teams. I'm used to it and I'm ready to come in and fit in wherever needed," he said.
Gay considers himself a student of the game, proclaiming himself a film junkie.
"The terminology is different," Gay said. "I've got to get what I'm accustomed to in college out of my head and get the new terms in my head. It’s the same basic defense, but it's just worded differently."
Gay is proud of the college program he came out of at Louisville and feels that former coach Bobby Petrino, now the head man with the Atlanta Falcons, prepared him well for the next level.
"Coach Petrino prepared us for the league," Gay explained. "He said ‘If that's not your dream when you get on this team, you don't need to be out here. He prepared us for this."
NOTE: Von Benko is a contributing writer for Louisville.com. He covers professional football, basketball and baseball and can reached by e-mail at email@example.com . Columnist Ron Steiner is published daily on Louisville.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .