It seems like just yesterday that Craig Steltz patrolled the LSU secondary, leading the Tigers to a BCS National championship in 2007. He now enters his 4th campaign in the NFL as a member of the Chicago Bears.
Craig led the Bayou Bengals in tackles during that championship season with 101 stops, 5 tackles for loss, one sack and an SEC-high 6 interceptions, the 7th-best single-season total in school history. He was first team All-SEC and first team All-American. Four of those 2007 picks came in consecutive games, a first at LSU.
Surprisingly, his NFL career has somewhat resembled his days in Tigertown. After losing a redshirt freshman year with the Tigers after only participating in six plays, Steltz served as a backup behind starting safeties Jesse Daniels and LaRon Landry. Injuries also took a nibble out his college days, similar to his NFL days in the windy city. He recorded 5 interceptions throughout his sophomore and junior seasons in a supporting role with three starts.
After sporadic opportunities with the Bears, the 2010 season looked to be his bust out year when he found himself in the starting role entering the preseason, but a high ankle sprain short circuited that progress. Craig hopes that history repeats itself in a good way just like 2007. â€œIâ€™m excited to get back into the competition,â€ he emphasized. â€œThe (NFL) lockout hasnâ€™t given us a chance to compete. Training camp will be exciting.â€
The former Archbishop Rummel All-State performer expects to be in the thick of the competition with the Bears along with holdovers including Danieal Manning, former ULM safety Chris Harris, ex-Saints starter Josh Bullock and Major Wright. Now that Craig is back to full health, he has to prove himself all over again. â€œI still have the drive to get back to the top,â€ he said. â€œAs a competitor I know what my role is. You never want to get complacent.â€ Craig is recognized as the only 2 time all state performer in Rummel history. The school also retired his jersey # 10. He was also twice All District.
Steltz's football resumeâ€™ supports how his hard work has paid dividends. He sharpens his skills in the off-season at the Duke Academy in Kenner, Louisiana where a plethora of other NFL players also train. As a tribute to his dedication and commitment, the Duke Academy displays a 6-by-9 still picture of Craig in the middle of one of his fierce workouts on one of the walls of the main workout areas.
Craig fondly recalls his days spent in Tigertown, knowing success came with a price. â€œTime has flown by. Very few things ever remain the same,â€ he smiled. â€œSo many memories. It wasnâ€™t just the (BCS) National Championship, the banners, busting my butt to get to that season (2007). It all brings back memories. Nothing was easy, nothing was handed to you. You battled your butt off to get there. I want to be an example as a leader of a national championship team. I want people to remember what it took to get there, a lot of hard work.â€
Among other team goals, the Chicago Bears have score to settle with division rival, the Green Bay Packers, who knocked the Bears out in the NFC title matchup on the way to winning the Super Bowl.
The Monsters of the Midway have always carried a tradition of fierce, physical play on defense. â€œIâ€™m excited to get out there. There is so much team camaraderie,â€ Craig said. â€œThe (Bears) defense is a special group with guys like (DE) Julius Peppers, (LB) Brian Urlacher and (LB) Lance Briggs. They play with passion. Itâ€™s great to be a part of that Bearsâ€™ tradition.â€
The 2011 Saints home opener will be September 18, a special day this season for the Steltz family because the Chicago Bears will invade the Superdome. Craig stresses the importance of knowing his family is always behind him. â€œItâ€™s great to have my family always being there. They come up to Chicago for games and on the road. Coming back to the Superdome, to have family and friends is great. To be in the same building where we won the (BCS) National Championship, itâ€™s going to be special.â€
The Steltz clan wonâ€™t be the only vocal fans in the Dome cheering for #20 for the Chicago Bears. â€œJust like the LSU fans, the Bear fans are passionate; they travel well,â€ he grinned.
As an LSU All-American, Craig will be recognized throughout eternity in a very unique group. He almost seems bashful and surprised with his success as a Tiger. He knows that as the years go by, the significance of those honors will grow.
â€œAs an All American I realize what it takes to get there. The picture (of him) in the Lawton Room (along with all the other LSU All-Americans) and what it represents. To be a part of that fraternity is very special. My dad always said â€˜Take every play ... never take anything for granted. Smell the grassâ€™. It all goes by so fast.â€ He shook his head, with a broad smile as he reflected, â€œ(But) that picture will be there forever.â€
If his 4th season in the NFL matches his 4th year in college, Steltz could end up savoring the 2011 season as aother banner year on his football journey.
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