By: Allan Erickson
Anyone from the port city of Wilmington, North Carolina, knows the Highsmiths in some form. Dr. Sam Highsmith was a longtime educator and principal in the Wilmington area. As the Steelers called Alex Highsmith’s name in the 3rd round of last year’s NFL Draft, everyone in Wilmington grew a sudden soft spot for the franchise.
From Eugene Ashley High School to a walk-on at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, to a 3rd round pick by the Steelers in the NFL Draft, it’s been an incredible journey for young #56 in the black and gold. As the season has progressed, we’ve been able to watch Alex get more opportunities as an outside linebacker. Before Bud Dupree got hurt, Alex was heavily involved in the defense. Dupree’s injury was unfortunate, but it has allowed Alex an opportunity to step in. He became a starter and a defensive player who was on the field for most plays. Alex has more than seized his chances, and he continues to contribute to the Steelers as an edge rusher.
Alex represents everything you think about for a prototypical Steeler. He’s tough, and he’s got a phenomenal motor and work ethic. Also, his “never give up” mentality is something everyone can learn. He fits in well with his teammates, he’s a grinder, and most importantly, he’s a fierce competitor and student of the game. These are the intangible traits that any coach would admire. More importantly, they’re the prototypical traits that we attribute to Pittsburgh defenders. The Steelers picked wisely when they drafted Alex Highsmith, and Alex couldn’t have asked for a better situation. With TJ Watt, Bud Dupree, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Cameron Hayward all surrounding Alex, he’s learned what being a pro means, what being a Steeler means, and how to come to work every day thinking anything less than your best is unacceptable.
In his rookie campaign, Highsmith compiled 39 tackles, two sacks, three tackles for loss. He also recorded his first career interception in a Week 11 matchup against the Baltimore Ravens, leading to an AFC North-clinching win. Highsmith’s interception and return put the Steelers in the red zone and changed the contest’s momentum. Ask anyone, and they’ll point to the play Alex made, jumping the route of Mark Andrews and intercepting last year’s NFL MVP. Watt and company congratulated him rapidly.
What Will the Future Hold?
As I continue to watch Alex Highsmith develop as a player, I can’t help but wonder what the future will hold. Bud Dupree went down in the December 7th matchup against the Ravens, and Highsmith started every game since. He then compiled 28 tackles, one sack, 14 quarterback hurries, and seven QB hits. Alex has a 75.6 pro football focus grade for this season and an 84.9 since entering the starting lineup.
With more opportunities, Highsmith has continued to rise to the occasion. He proved why he belongs in the National Football League. I can’t wait to see Highsmith rise in the postseason, although I won’t guarantee any pro bowls or all-pro selections. However, with the way he’s grown and continues to work, I also would be willing to bet against anybody who doesn’t have faith in him. #56, the port city kid with the walk-on mentality, has nearly limitless potential. Kudos to Wilmington’s own Alex Highsmith, and cheers to many more years of success!