By RJ Walters / Daily News Sports Editor
As it will be published in the Hillsdale Daily News on April 29, 2009
Eds note: I never publish stories or columns on here before they go to print in the HDN, but I felt compelled to do that tonight because I felt it was right given some special circumstances. Yesterday’s blog post on Tom Korte mirrors all of the feelings I had on his situation after an introductory glance at what was going on and what obstacles he faced. What I didn’t have a chance to consider though was the people who know Korte best, and what Korte had been told by the organization himself. I also did not know the Steelers were planning on releasing Larry Foote, which totally gives life to how interested Pittsburgh may just be in bringing in one or two young LBs. Anyways, after a day to ponder, investigate more and make some necessary calls here are my reconstructed feelings on the situation.
All Tuesday afternoon I was trying to figure out reasons Tom Korte would not make the Pittsburgh Steelers. I was trying not to let emotion, and my biased observations throw me overboard, en route to a somewhat spotty opinion.
Then, after writing an entire column full of indecisiveness based on numbers and “expert opinions”, I was let off the hook — the Steelers released seven-year veteran inside linebacker Larry Foote, and hours later I spoke with Korte at length.
What I’ve concluded is that Korte really is everything Keith Otterbein has built him up to be, he is a young man who has been convinced since a young age he’d be lining up to play on Sunday and the Pittsburgh Steelers just might be the perfect opportunity at the perfect time.
Bear in mind, he already has a contract, the Steelers are already investing their time and money in him, something Mark Nicolet was only chasing heading into rookie mini-camp for the Lions last May. He is set to officially sign a two-year deal this weekend when he travels to the Steel City for the first time, and even if things don’t go quite as Korte wants and he ends up a practice squad player early on, he is still guaranteed at least $88,400 over the 17-week regular season, aside from the bonus he is set to receive.
That dollar figure might not blow some people away, I’m not one of those for the record, but the sheer fact they have already promised to give Korte a long, hard look is something that cannot be overstated. That means one rough day is not grounds for a “thanks, but no thanks,” because in essence Korte is already a Steeler, someone the organization is ready to bring into training camp come August.
On top of that, the Steelers are an organization that has a history of turning undrafted free agents into starters on contenders and even Super Bowl winning teams. Just ask current Steelers Arnold Harrison, last year’s team rookie of the year Patrick Bailey or even star linebacker James Harrison who just inked a $51.75 million contract in the offseason.
The fact is the Steelers have always been lauded as an organization who has an eye for finding and developing under-appreciated talent, something Korte knows a little about. It was just a few months ago that he was passed over as a selection for the Division II All-Star game, the Cactus Bowl, for which a committee selected who they thought to be the 10 best linebackers in D-II. Korte brushed off that slight as “just a bunch of politics”, saying he was happy just to have pro scouts show interest throughout his senior year, and ultimately come to his pro days prior to the draft.
You see Korte isn’t an athlete who needs negative emotions to drive him to positive reactions, he is simply an extremely driven, high IQ football player who believes he is good enough to “be a starter in the NFL, and hopefully one day for a Super Bowl champion”. He is the kind of guy who thanks his coaches, teammates and family just for putting him in this spot, even though deep down he’s the only one who knows how many hours he’s spent in the gym, and the number of evenings he’s spent studying film instead of hitting parties.
Korte plays like he talks — smooth, purposefully, and with an obvious passion.
It must be stated that the Steelers did also sign Andy Schantz, an undrafted rookie out of FCS school Portland State, after the draft, and two of his teammates have already caught on as linebackers in the NFL, for the Colts and Buccaneers. Plus he was under the tutelage of former NFL head coach Jerry Glanville for two seasons, in a defensive scheme eerily similar to “Blitzburgh’s” 4-3. But you know what, Korte couldn’t even remember Schantz’s first name Tuesday, not because he’s arrogant, but because he’s just another player to him, just the latest hurdle to clear after scouting services all over the Internet pinned Korte as low as the 50th best ILB in the draft.
You see, I learned from the e-mails I received Tuesday from fans of Grand Rapids Catholic Central, where Korte played high school ball, from numerous conversations with Otterbein, and ultimately from talking to Korte’s teammates that to bet against Tom Korte is to admit you’re willing to be called stupid, because he’s too good a football player and even more so a person to doubt him. So anything I’ve read about Korte being too short or not able to jump as high as his linebacking counterparts is a moot point.
The facts are Korte just agreed to sign an NFL contract, he was a three-time First-Team selection in one of D-II’s toughest conference, and he’s handled the last two days as well as possible, all while finishing a final research paper and presentation at a college that demands commitment around the clock.
Those sheer truths, coupled with the knack Dick Labeau has for developing talent and the breaking news of Larry Foote being released have made me pause. I can’t think of one good reason to look at Tom Korte as just another talented D-II guy, a man who was a good story in college and is destined to be an even better dentist (which is another possible career for him).
In fact I would be willing to bet that he’s every ounce the player he proclaims to be, and maybe he’s just the next big project for an organization who thrives in mining talent others seem to have missed.
Even if I am admitting my bias now, and letting some feel-good sentiment affect me, at least it’s in regards to a player who has yet to find a challenge too big to take down.
Ultimately though, I’ll let the NFL be the final judge and just appreciate what he has done for the Charger community in the meantime.