On Friday Tom Korte intercepted a Charlie Batch pass, without even realizing it at first — and at 8 a.m. Monday he was taking the first of several final exams at Hillsdale College.
Such is the life of the former Charger linebacker who is fresh off his first three-day minicamp as an NFL player.
Signed by the Steelers to a two-year rookie contract as an undrafted free agent, Korte said minicamp was an incredible experience, crammed full of foreign terms, a heavy new playbook, and familiarizing himself with teammates and coaches.
He also said it was a whirlwind that was impossible to appreciate because so many thing were happening all at once.
“It was pretty incredible, it was intimidating and new and exciting. It was kind of hard to appreciate it all because things were going so fast and I had to learn the playbook and keep in mind not to act like I was some fan, I’m a player,” he said. “I didn’t get the full experience and I don’t think it has really sunk in yet that I’m going to be with these guys for a while and these guys will be my teammates this summer.”
Full experience or not, he already knows what it’s like to intercept an NFL veteran, albeit at a practice facility without fans filling the stands.
On Friday, his very first day at camp, he picked off the former Lions’ starter and Steelers’ backup QB Batch, although at the time he had no clue who was taking snaps under center and he still isn’t completely sure how the ball ended up in his hands.
“I think a lot of it was luck…and I didn’t even know it was Charlie Batch until later when I was talking to some of the guys. One of the quarterbacks who I kind of became good friends with was like, ‘Hey, good pick’ and I was like, ‘Thanks, who was that I picked off?’. And he told me it was Charlie Batch and I was like ‘No way!'” Korte said. “It was the third defense, so basically the rookies in there, and I didn’t really have time to see who the quarterback was. I was too worried about making the call and making all the adjustments on the field. It was pretty fun.”
Aside from that noteworthy play, Korte said he feels he did good job of avoiding “boneheaded” moments, while trying to process the 3-4 defensive scheme after four years of the 4-3 as a Charger,
“Adapting to the playbook was a challenge, it’s very intense, and it’s very involved and it will take a while to learn,” he said. “I think it was kind of hard for me going there and having some of the other linebackers know (the playbook) like the back of their hand and I didn’t know anything. The veterans definitely had an upper hand on me, and that was kind of an unfamiliar feeling.”
Korte said the coaching staff, including defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and Mike Tomlin, were understanding and helpful, adding encouragement to the rookies as they learned the ropes.
Korte will graduate from Hillsdale on Saturday, and he said his first NFL camp experience was similar on some levels to how he felt at the beginning of several college semesters.
“I’ve been kind of telling people it’s like the first three weeks of organic chemistry where you get kind of lost. I’m sure it’s not quite as involved, but it is a different scheme than we run at (Hillsdale),” he said. “Once school is over I’ll focus more on it and grasp the idea a little more — it’s definitely going to be a challenge and I look forward to getting after it.”
Charger head coach Keith Otterbein said he has no doubts that Korte will digest everything quickly and tackle this newest challenge with vigor and tenacity.
“He has a great football IQ. He knows and understand the game well and although learning an NFL defense will be complex I imagine, I have no reservations about his ability to pick it up and excel,” he said. “He has a great feel for the game and he has a mental and physical toughness. He played seven games for us last season with three broken bones, which proves he is physically tough and determined.”
Otterbein also said that he believes Korte is only reaping the benefits of years of hard work and preparation for this moment and he applauds the NFL for understanding what the linebacker can possibly offer to a pro team.
“It says the NFL does a great job of scouring the nation for good football players. They don’t let their egos get in the way, they just do their homework and look for the best talent available. I know teams spend a lot of dollars on the entire scouting process and I think they do a great job,” he said.
Korte said the support he has received, in the form of e-mails, text messages and phone calls over the course of the last week, has been “really cool” and he is thankful for all of the friends he has made on his journey to the Steelers.
More than anything though, he said this opportunity is one of the greatest blessings he could receive and he is leaning on his strong faith in God as he tries to make the Steelers roster.
“I know it’s out of my hands. There’s nothing I can do to make decisions, it’s up to the coaches, and I have just have to work hard and I’ll just follow this path and trust God will show me if this is the right opportunity,” he said. “I have been very blessed and cannot say that enough. God has been so prevalent in my life and I’m just so thankful.”
Korte will return to Pittsburgh in a little over a week, for involuntary team activities and meetings which start May 15.