It's a daily occurrence during the summer and fall at the UPMC South Side training facility the Steelers and Pitt Panthers share. The professional players conduct their practice on one field, and the collegiate players come out to get a sneak peek before their practice begins on the adjacent fields.

Some sit on benches, taking their time to lace up their cleats, or leisurely tape their wrists. Others keep moving and slowly walk to their workout, their necks craned to catch a glimpse of the action.

LaRod Stephens-Howling was no different when he donned a Pitt uniform from 2005-08. He was a freshman when the Steelers won Super Bowl XL and a senior when they won Super Bowl XLIII, and he was never shy about stopping and staring at the pros.

"I used to see them out there," said Stephens-Howling, who signed a free agent contract with the Steelers in April and will compete for a roster spot this summer as a reserve running back and kick returner. "It reminds you why you're doing what you do at the college level. It was always my dream to play in the NFL. To see those guys work every day, you remind yourself why you're working so hard."
Stephens-Howling realized his dream when was drafted by Arizona in the seventh round of the 2009 draft. After four seasons with the Cardinals, where he developed into a top kick returner and a quality third-down back, the Johnstown native decided to come closer to home when he saw an opportunity open with the Steelers.

"When I came in for my visit, they let me know the opportunity they had on third downs and they let me know special teams is a big reason why I'm here," Stephens-Howling said. "They let me know right off the bat that both things will come into account when it comes to the roster."

The Steelers are looking to fill both positions after they released Chris Rainey one week after last season ended, on the same day he was arrested and charged with simple battery. Rainey was eighth in the NFL in kickoff return yardage as a rookie, totaling 1,035 yards on 39 returns for a 26.5 average. He also had 102 yards rushing and 60 yards receiving when he played on offense, mostly in third-down situations.
Stephens-Howling was one of the top kickoff return men in the NFL in 2009 and 2010. In his rookie season, Stephens-Howling was seventh in the league with 1,257 yards and one touchdown. The next season he led the league with 1,547 yards and two touchdowns. Only Leon Washington of Seattle had more kickoff return touchdowns with three.