By RJ Walters / Daily News Sports Editor
As published in the Hillsdale Daily News on April 30, 2009
Hillsdale College linebacker Tom Korte will be heading to the Pittsburgh Steelers rookie mini-camp on Thursday and signing a two-year free agent contract with the team this weekend. Daily News Sports Editor RJ Walters took time earlier this week to discuss the entire draft process and what lies ahead for the three-time All-GLIAC First-Team standout.
RW: Prior to the draft, scouting services and Web sites said you were a little too short, couldn’t jump high enough and just weren’t quite worthy of being an NFL draft pick. What was that whole process like for you?
TK: It didn’t really bother me at all because a lot of times (scouts) look at film. Plus everyone has different numbers, you know that some of that online stuff is just different. At both pro days I was measured over 6-foot and online they had me at 5-11. All the other numbers were comparable, I was happy with my pro days and I put up some decent numbers. It’s all kind of in the past, but just to have teams interested in me because of the condition I’m in and my film and how I reacted to scouts….I think everything has really paid off.
RW: Can you give people an idea what NFL Draft weekend was like for you and how you came to be a Steeler?
TK: My agent started calling around to teams to see if they were interested in me after my pro day and the Steelers were one of the teams who were interested. The first draft day nothing went on, and on the second day we didn’t expect anything until around the sixth round, and sure enough the Steelers called my agent, and they said they were interested in me and really liked me as a “priority” free agent. They also said they probably weren’t going to draft me, but they had some legitimate interest in me, so me and my agent talked it over and looked at the situation at linebacker, because it was important to see who they had there. And we kind of felt like Larry Foote might be on his way out, we had some inside information, and he actually is (gone) now. That opens up another spot and that’s really exciting news. Come the seventh round the Steelers had two picks and they didn’t pick a linebacker and my agent called me back and told me they offered us the “priority” free agent…so the deal was done, we made a verbal agreement and then actually this weekend I’ll sign with them.
RW:Do you feel this is an opportunity to prove to some people that you are a better player then they might think? You were not selected to the Cactus Bowl (the D-II all-star game) and you didn’t get as much attention from scouting sites or services as players with comparable numbers and combine times.
TK: There’s a lot of politics and all that stuff in the Cactus Bowl. And I always believed in myself and my family and friends always believed in me and I just felt like I was a high-caliber player who can do a lot of things. I’ve always worked out with the mindset I’m one of the best players and this opportunity just gives me another shot at that, for myself and my surrounding cast, to prove I belong there. This is a life-long goal. I remember watching the Detroit Lions when I was little boy with my dad and I told myself, even as a little boy, that “Yeah, I can play in the NFL”. It’s kind of funny because every little kid thinks that…so it’s exciting and I’m just looking forward to getting after it.
RW:It has to be pretty exciting to know you’re getting the opportunity to be paid to play a game you’ve grown up loving.
TK: I’m so very excited about it, and I feel very blessed to have this opportunity, to play for a great organization, let alone (in) the NFL — the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers of all people. It’s kind of a big deal and the Steelers are known for picking up free agents and developing them, and I think that’s very encouraging for me because they know how to find quality players and obviously they see something in me, which is reassuring and exciting. They’ve given me an opportunity and I’m going to take my best shot at it to make that team and I’m really just looking forward to playing football. It’s just been testing and workouts and now it’s playing football — that’s what it’s all about, playing the game I love and really just having fun.
RW:The Steelers also signed another undrafted free agent, out of Portland State, who plays your position, and he’s out of a system that is similar to what the Steelers run. Do you look at that as a good thing because then at least you know they’re committed to bringing in some young linebackers, or do you look at it as having even more competition to make the roster, with guys just as hungry as you are?
TK:There are always going to be guys who are your competition and he’s just another guy that’s coming in and has an opportunity like me, that’s going to compete for his job. His name is what, Aaron Schwartz, or something like that? (Andy Schantz) He’s just another guy, I’ll meet him this weekend and it’s all competition. It’s about doing the right things, making plays and just getting out there and showing them what you’ve got.
RW:It’s really a pretty basic question, but what are your goals, not only in your first weekend of mini-camp, but also for the next few months?
TK: I was actually just going to sit down and write those goals tonight, but I really just want to go to mini-camp this weekend and show them that even though I’m a Division II player I am going to surprise them with my knowledge of the game and how fast I can adapt to that level of play. I want to show them I’m there for business and I want to play the game with the highest level of focus and intensity they could want out of a player. The ultimate goal is to actually start on the team. You know, guys always say they want to “make a team” but that’s not the ultimate goal — the ultimate goal is start for a Super Bowl championship team. Yeah it would be nice to be on the team, but my ultimate goal is to be a starter in the NFL. You know, I’d be happy with being on the team, but it’s not the ultimate goal.
RW: How much pressure do you put on yourself right now, knowing there are dozens of athletes in your position right now, and that this weekend is your first chance to prove to the Steelers you’re worth a spot?
TK: It’s interesting because I don’t exactly know the dynamics of contracts and stuff yet. What I understand though, since they invested money in me, this weekend is more of a “getting to know me”, orientation weekend, it’s not like I have to make the team right now. But I’m going out there to impress, no doubt about it. They can cut you at any time, but they invested in me and they know I’m a D-II kid so it might take a little time for me to adapt to the speed…but really, I’ll be on the team, I’ll work out with them this summer and when (training) camp rolls around I should be in the mix.
RW: How well has Hillsdale College prepared you for this monumental jump you’re about to make?
TK: Without the great people I’ve had around me I would not be in the spot I am to day. A lot of guys come from Division I to get signed as a free agent and the rigors of their academics are not as strong as they are at Hillsdale, and that’s the first reason I picked Hillsdale. I knew the academics were going to be good for me for what I wanted to do, which is become a dentist, but I always knew that I wanted to play football and be the best at that sport because I knew I could do good things. And it just turns out that giving it your all and working hard and having good people around you can lead to good things. I’ve been very, very happy with the way things have turned out here and I’ve been very blessed with the people here at Hillsdale.
RW:From Hillsdale to Pittsburgh in a matter of days. What do you expect that transition will be like?
TK:(Laughing) It should be pretty interesting — I haven’t even been to Pittsburgh before. It’s a pretty historic city and it’s very different from Hillsdale. I’m from Grand Rapids, a decent sized city, but obviously Pittsburgh is bigger. I probably won’t see much of it this weekend because it’s all business, but I just look forward to seeing a new place and starting a new chapter in my life. I feel very blessed and I’m going to take full advantage of this opportunity.
RW:A year ago, your teammate and friend Mark Nicolet experienced rookie camp as a QB at the Detroit Lions facility. Although he was fighting for the chance at a contract while you already have one signed, what have you been able to glean from his experience that might help you?
TK: I actually talked to Mark a few nights ago and he said it is going to be the most intense three days of my life because they throw as much information at you as they can and see how you learn and adapt. He said your mind and body are going to be worn out, but just attack it and do it just like you do every time you play football at Hillsdale and you should be fine. He gave me some details about how it goes and it was good learning from him. I really appreciate his friendship and the leadership he’s shown me the last few years. It’s nice to have kind of a guy to look up to and give you some information.
RW:Now that you’re heading to the NFL and you’re going to be a Steeler, have you already bought some Steelers gear? And also, what’s going to be your first big purchase with this new contract being signed?
TK: (Laughing) I have not bought any Steelers gear yet, I haven’t had time. I had to give my senior research presentation on Monday, the day after the draft. I was on the phone Sunday from like 7:30 (p.m.) until one in the morning, and then finished my Powerpoint presentation and had to give it (Monday) afternoon while my phone was blowing up and my e-mail was full. It was ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous. And then I had to give another presentation (Tuesday) in a different class and I still have a bunch of stuff to finish up, so I didn’t really have time to go shopping. I don’t about the first purchase, I don’t think I’ve ever really had the opportunity to buy something significant. And I still don’t, I signed for nothing terrifically grand, but maybe a dog or something like that.
Eds note: I have set up a time to talk to Korte Monday following rookie camp and he has said he would even be interested in writing a “rookie journal” throughout the summer as he experiences many firsts and takes on the NFL challenge with full determination.