Ethan Hemer's "Letters from Camp"

***NewsChannel 7 Sports is excited to bring you an exclusive inside look at Medford native Ethan Hemer's pursuit of an NFL dream, as he tries to make the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ethan will send us "Letters from Camp" to share with the viewers and fans from northcentral Wisconsin.***

6/26/14-- Well I am back in Wisconsin now. I got back to Madison Friday evening and a lot has happened since my last blog. We wrapped up mini camp on Thursday. It'll be nice to have some time off before fall camp. I report the 24th of July so I will be looking forward to enjoying a couple weeks of summer.

Mini Camp was basically the same set up as OTAs. We had workouts in the morning followed by a walk through then practice in the afternoon followed by more meetings. I would say it went pretty well. I have a solid understanding of the playbook now and I feel like my technique has greatly improved since first arriving in Pittsburgh. The coaches amped up the intensity since we are getting closer to actually playing football again.

I have received requests to talk about some experiences with the veteran players of the Steelers. During one of the special teams segments of practice we were working on kick off return and I was working as a fullback. My job was to set the return and fit up on my assigned block. For whatever reason Ben Roethlisberger decided to jump in on the look team. The special teams coach had told me and other guys on the back line that if any of us touch Roethlisberger we would not be in a good place. You can imagine the fear I shared with the other guys, especially since he was my block! I made sure to find another guy to block for that rep. I was not about to be "that guy".

The defensive guys have been very helpful with all of the rookies. Cam Heyward has been a big help to me as far as learning what it takes to play at this level. The same can be said of Steve McClendon. It was interesting hearing the career stories of how some of the veterans have made it to where they are. Being cut from one team does not necessarily mean the end of a career. Some have been cut multiple times, but all the vets show some level of persistence and it has paid off for them. The NFL is a business where everyone does all they can to stick around as long as they can. The majority of players do not stay with one team for their whole career, so it's important to be mentally strong and take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves.

Now that I am back in Madison I will be training 7 days a week. The strength coach gave us an in depth workout plan for the next few weeks. I will be doing some form of conditioning every day and sometimes twice a day. My coaches have preached the importance of oxygen and endurance. Fall camp is long and it is crucial that we maintain a high level of endurance to decrease our risk of injury. From what I have been told having an off season workout with a lot of detail is pretty rare. Most summer workout plans are extremely vague because the coaches know most guys will work with their own personal trainers and do their own program. There is a great amount of respect for the Pittsburgh strength staff throughout the program.

In closing I would like to say thanks to all who have read my posts. These few weeks I have been in Pittsburgh have been great. I've learned a heck of a lot and had some wonderful experiences. I am looking forward to the next part of this journey. Thanks for reading!

6/17/14-- A week has gone by since my last blog and things are pretty much the same here. We finished OTAs on Thursday. It didn't really feel like anything ended though because we have mini camp this week. The only difference will be adding a walk through in the morning and moving the practice to the afternoon. The vets that weren't at OTAs will be here now, as the mini camp is mandatory.

On Friday we traveled to St. Vincent College to see the layout for fall camp. The school is in a pretty remote location an hour west of Pittsburgh. We saw where we would be staying, the cafeteria, practice fields, and our weight room. It's no Caesars Palace, but it'll do just fine.

I've never had to travel somewhere for camp. We always just stayed in Madison and used our facilities. I've heard stories about the old days when Wisconsin used to travel to a seminary just outside of Madison. There is something unique and special about it. It's like stepping back in time to a camp 30 years ago. The man who gave us our tour told us that during camp thousands of fans line the field to watch. Hearing this was just another reminder of how fortunate I am to be here. I went to a Packers family day when I was young, so I can appreciate an organization with a fiercely loyal following.

My parents made the trip out to Pitt this weekend. It was awesome to spend some time with them and be with dad on Father's Day. We did some sight-seeing around the city and went to the Flight 93 memorial which was very moving. I learned a lot about that flight. The people on it were so brave. That along with checking out the sights Pittsburgh had to offer made for a memorable weekend. My parents went back on Sunday. It was sad to see them leave, but I was glad they came. I know I wouldn't be here without them, and they are just happy to be along for the ride.

That's all for now. I'll will write again after mini camp is done. Thanks for reading!

6/9/14-- A lot has happened since my last blog. OTAs are in full swing. This is our last week before the mini camp next week. Reps are still at a premium and the coaches coach us hard, but I do feel like I am improving daily. Today coach Tomlin surprised us with a trip to Dave & Busters for some team bonding. It was a lot of fun hanging with the team and playing games. I haven't done anything like that in quite some time. Tomorrow we go practice at Heinz Field for some change of scenery.

There have been a couple community service events this past week. We went to a troubled youth ranch run by former Steelers great Mel Blount. We ran some football drills and team bonding activities with kids from the Pittsburgh area. A couple days later the rookies helped at an event called "Urban Impact." It was a fundraiser for kids from the north side to get them involved with after-school activities. University of Pitt and Duquesne athletes were also there. We ran drills for the kids, similar to the youth ranch. Both of these events were extremely rewarding. It was fun to get out in the community and have an impact on kids. One thing is for sure. People here love their Steelers. The city is crazy about this team.

The best event we did this past week was when we went to Canton, Ohio to see the Hall of Fame. For anyone who might be considering making the trip, do it. Heck, do it twice! There is too much to absorb in just one trip. The history is unbelievable. Seeing where the league has come from and all the greats from the past was truly remarkable. The room with all the bronze statues of everyone who is in the Hall made me realize how truly special it is. Less than 300 people have been inducted in the history of the sport. This was a trip I won't soon forget.

That's all for now. I'll write again when I can. Thanks for reading!

5/28/14-- Well, I am now into my third week of my employment with Pittsburgh. It's crazy to think how things have changed in such a short time here. The gears have shifted to OTAs. The general layout of my day hasn't changed much, but there are some small differences from mini camp. The biggest being that the veteran players are now involved in practices, meaning a couple of things. For one, reps are at a premium as one would expect. Attention to detail and expectations are even higher than before. In addition, my days have gotten longer as rookies are required to lift in the morning before meetings.

I am starting to realize what it means to work an adult job. While playing in the league is not a typical job, the demands and stress of being a rookie are becoming very real. But I know this is part of the job and I am confident in my abilities to cope with it all. I've been told by many vets that there are a lot of guys who physically can play in the league, but mentally cannot handle the pressures from both on and off the field. Mental health will continue to be a main focus for me.

To help us adjust to life in the NFL, the Steelers have required us to attend classes at the end of our day. Think of it like a life skills class. We have had a number of speakers and presentations on a wide range of topics. The classes have really helped give me an idea of the challenges and difficulties off the field that come with the title of NFL player. There was a microscope on me in college but now it's more magnified.

OTAs will continue for a couple more weeks. My focus is still on finding a way to get better everyday and control the controllables. Every minute here is special and I know how rare it is to experience this all.

That's all for now. I will update again soon.

5/23/14--Since my last blog, a lot has happened, and I could write an essay on it all, but the biggest event I have gone through is the Steelers rookie mini camp. This was an experience unlike any I have had in my football career thus far. It was my first real opportunity to play since the (Capital One) bowl game in January, but without pads. The camp started Thursday evening when all the tryout guys showed up. We had a camp meeting just to go over what was expected and how to take advantage of the opportunity. Then we went right into position group meetings and installed basically the entire defensive playbook. The volume was immense. But the coaches know this and do it to see who can absorb vast amounts of information the best. Friday we had a walk through in the morning to go over the installation, then a practice in the afternoon. Saturday was a repeat of this, plus more playbook installation. Sunday we only had one practice in the morning.

There were lots of mistakes on both sides of the ball, but the camp was designed to stress you mentally as well as physically. Some guys handled the pressure well. Others did not. The biggest thing for me was I just had to focus on getting better every practice and running to the ball like my life depended on it, and If I did that, I knew I would be in a good spot at the end. I feel like I definitely improved because of the camp.

The mini camp made me realize a couple of things. For one, there is no room for error at this level. Mistakes are penalized by money if you're lucky. Otherwise it's reps and without reps you lose your job. Also, coaches do not look to build relationships with the players, at least initially. But it makes sense because many of the players they are coaching will be gone in a couple of weeks anyways. The final thing I realized was how fortunate I am to even be a free agent. There were roughly 30 extra tryout guys at the camp, and I'm not sure if any of them were asked to stay. This is the reality of football at this level: Many try, but few are selected. But the journey goes on. Next week we start OTAs so reps will be limited drastically. The important thing for me is to take advantage of my opportunities when they present themselves and always be prepared.

More to come next week.

5/15/14--Thus far I have been in Pittsburgh since Monday, and I am pleasantly surprised with the city and what it has to offer. My immediate thought was that of many steel mills on a river, but the city is actually clean, green, and there is a lot of really cool buildings and structures.

As far as football goes, things here have been a whirlwind. Upon arriving at the facilities I was fitted for equipment, got a locker and a new number (79), and met a couple of the athletic trainers. The next day we had a bunch of medical testing to make sure there weren't any hidden issues the doctors weren't aware of. The facilities are shared with the university of Pittsburgh football team so it creates an interesting dynamic. It sounds like there isn't ever an issue with conflicts though, and I know a couple of guys that followed coach chryst from wisconsin to join his staff. Once I am all settled in I will reach out to them.

The last few days have consisted of a consistent routine. We come in early, eat, meet, lift, and meet again. Today was a little different in that the rookies came back and had a meeting with coach Tomlin to kick off the rookie mini camp. There were about 30 extra guys there who are trying out for the team as well. We then met for a couple hours with our position coach to install the defense. Tomorrow is the first practice, so it will be great to finally play the game again. I haven't actually played football since January. We will go from 730am until late that day, and then do it all over again. Wish me luck! More to come after mini camp.


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