The five-year contract Alex Highsmith signed last week makes the Pittsburgh Steeler one of the highest-paid outside linebackers in football, but he has no intention of changing the “walk-on mentality” that has served him so well. Highsmith arrived at UNC-Charlotte in 2015 without any scholarship offers and left five years later as a third-round pick by the Steelers.
“As soon as I got to Charlotte, I just wanted to outwork everyone and be the best that I could,” he said Tuesday at the press conference announcing his contract. “I still carry that mindset with me today. I know there’s always people that are going to work to be better than you, so just continuing to work as hard as I can just to be the best for this team is what I’m going to continue to do.”
Pen to paper ‼️ pic.twitter.com/XswhGW3fak
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) July 19, 2023
Highsmith’s steady improvement has continued during his three seasons in the NFL. He became a full-time starter in 2021 and had a breakout season in 2022, recording a team-high 14.5 sacks (sixth in the NFL) and tying for the league lead with five forced fumbles.
Throughout his career, the 25-year-old has been sustained by his faith in God. He began his opening remarks at Tuesday’s press conference by thanking God.
“First and foremost, I just want to give all the glory and honor to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for blessing me with the ability to play this game that I love,” Highsmith said. “I play for His glory, and so just being able to do this is just such a blessing.”
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Highsmith told the Niner Times, UNC-Charlotte’s student newspaper, that he grew up going to church but stopped in high school, and he soon felt like his actions didn’t reflect that he was a Christian. He credits joining Fellowship of Christian Athletes in college with helping him become more serious about his faith. It is also where he met his wife, Alyssa.
Back in March, Highsmith discussed his contract situation during an appearance on the “House of Yinzer” podcast. He expressed his desire to stay in Pittsburgh but also his confidence in the plan God had for him.
“I do want to be here, that’s just really the main thing,” he said on the podcast. “So, we’ll see. God’s got a plan with it all, and so [I’m] just trusting Him the whole way. But I do love it here and I love the fans — Steelers Nation as a whole is great.”
As much as Highsmith enjoys playing football, he’s learned over the years that making it his identity will leave him unfulfilled.
“Jesus died for me, I’ve got to live for Him,” he told the Niner Times. “That’s why it’s so important because all the things in this world are fleeting. I love this game of football, it’s amazing, but it’s not my god. I’ve tried to put my identity in the sport at times and it’s let me down. This game, it’s great, but it’s not going to be God.”
The Steelers will be relying on Highsmith and 2021 NFL Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt to anchor their defense as the team attempts to win a playoff game for the first time since 2016. If they win at least nine games, it would mark the 20th consecutive season the franchise did not finish with a losing record.
Pittsburgh faces the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in its first preseason game on Aug. 11. Its regular-season opener is Sept. 10 against the San Francisco 49ers.
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