Before LaRod Stephens-Howling was a running back in the NFL, he was a kid in Johnstown.
As a kid, he looked up to those professional athletes while carving a path which took him from Greater Johnstown High School, to the University of Pittsburgh and through four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals before he signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers this past spring.
All the while, he always remembered the community.
Stephens-Howling’s involvement in the community showed Monday afternoon when he appeared at Fitness Weights Aerobics as part of the Flood City Youth & Fitness Academy’s Youth Fitness Day at the Lincoln Street center.
“I can remember being in their shoes, being a kid and watching the NFL,” Stephens-Howling said. “Watching those guys and seeing what they did to get to the level they were at. Now that I’m here, it’s great to be able to talk to the kids and steer them in the right direction if they’re not going that way.
“Also, you just want to give back if you’re fortunate enough to make it in position that I am. It’s time to give back and help others.”
The event gave area youth a chance to meet and converse with the Steelers running back with demonstrations of youth-fitted gym equipment at the facility.
“We’re grateful to have LaRod be a part of our program,” FWA manager Donald Roebuck said. “He uses the facilities when he’s in town. The minute I told him what we were doing with the youth program, he was all aboard. He wanted to give back.”
For Stephens-Howling, who will wear No. 34 with the Steelers, the excitement of suiting up for his hometown team is peaking as training camp is slated to begin this weekend at St. Vincent College in Latrobe.
“It’s real exciting to be coming back home after four years across the country,” Stephens-Howling said. “It feels good to be closer to my family and being able to do things like this in the community. It feels great to be here and strap it up on Friday for the Steelers.”
Through four seasons with the Cardinals, the Johnstown product has rushed for 651 yards and five touchdowns with 2012 serving as his most prolific season toting the ball as Arizona battled injuries throughout the season in the backfield, vaulting Stephens-Howling into a more featured role. Stephens-Howling also logged 56 receptions for 534 yards with a trio of touchdowns and three kick return touchdowns on his resume during his time in Arizona.
And what are the possible plans for fitting the 5-foot-7, 185-pounder into the Steelers offense?
“Before I even signed, (the Steelers) said I’d be worked in as a third-down back and special teams in the kick-return game,” Stephens-Howling said. “Pretty much the role I’m in now. I just gotta go into camp and work to keep that role.”
And if the stars align, Stephens-Howling could find his way back to his old stomping grounds on Fridays.
“I’m going to see how many games I can make,” Stephens-Howling said. “It’s going to be fun to see some high school football games, especially at Trojan Stadium.”