PITTSBURGH -- Fullbacks must keep their edge at all times to survive in the NFL. Roosevelt Nix handled a question about the joy of signing a four-year contract after a Pro Bowl season like a kickout assignment on a Power-O run.
"Ain't nothing guaranteed," said Nix, who signed his new deal Saturday. "To me, it means we’ve got more work to do. Now, there’s a value placed on me and I’m expected to perform. That’s what I’m going to do."
Nix takes this approach because football was taken from him, almost for good.
One of the Steelers' great success stories developed in 2015 in Columbus, Ohio, where the former Kent State defensive lineman was stripped of his joy. Cut by the Atlanta Falcons early in camp after a fruitless transition to fullback, Nix had few options and no promise of a phone call from another team. His pro football dream was also clouded by pressures at home to join the workforce.
How's this for the glamorous NFL life: Nix was living with his mom, Lisa, while serving as a teacher's aid at Reynoldsburg High School, where he was once a bulky prep star. After a teaching strike ended, Nix earned a prominent role at the school teaching all subjects and helping students who struggled to stay on task.
The school schedule necessitated 4:30 a.m. football workouts in case his agent called with a tryout. He would sneak in an extra workout in the afternoon before heading to his second job as a bouncer at Xclusive Elite, a nightclub in Columbus, a few nights a week.
Nix even applied to the local police academy and took the written portion of the test.
These jobs were placeholders, he told himself. It was too early for a backup plan.
"I was literally praying and hoping I didn’t need one," Nix said. "I wasn’t planning on not being successful in football. At that point in time I was just looking for anything to stay afloat. To have it all in front of you and taken from me, it was a mad scramble to be successful any type of way. The schedule was tiring. Sometimes it made me wonder if anything would happen."
Nix earned enough to help around the house. His trainer, Brian Saunders at 11 Athletics in Columbus, believed in Nix enough to let him train for free.
But Nix kept hearing bad news: No teams were calling.
"My agent's trying to shop me and no one's looking. It was like, 'Damn, what are we doing?'" Nix said. "That was the most difficult part. Luckily, my friends and family were a huge support system for me."
Turns out the Steelers had a file on Nix but hadn't acted on it yet. They had attended his Kent State pro day, where Nix made an impressive catch down the sideline. He also made a few splashy hits in the all-star-game scene. After the 2015 season, the Steelers called agent Bill Parise to schedule Nix's workout, then signed him to a futures/reserve contract as a linebacker.
Nix gladly quit his school and bouncer jobs and moved to Pittsburgh. Come camp, coach Mike Tomlin informed him he'd be moving to fullback, the position that got him cut in Atlanta over lack of reps. Nix had just lost 30 pounds transitioning to linebacker.
This felt different, though. Nix got more reps, which he used to win the physical backs-on-'backers drills. A punt block in the preseason finale against Carolina helped seal a roster spot.
"Coach T saw something in me," Nix said. "It was a great thing. I’m not sure what he knew."
Two years later, Nix blocks for Le'Veon Bell and is among the five highest-paid fullbacks in the NFL.
True to 2015 form, Nix hasn't yet traded in his used black Ford Taurus.
"Driving the same car I showed up to camp with," Nix said.