According to The Tribune-Democrat former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Carlton Haselrig collapsed at his home in Johnstown, Pa. this morning and was pronounced dead an hour later. He was 54 years old. An autopsy will be performed, but his death is believed to be from natural causes.
From Wrestling to NFL Football
Haselrig got his start in football via wrestling. As noted by The Tribune-Democrat, Haselrig won six NCAA wrestling titles at Division II Pitt-Johnstown in the late 1980s, three in Division I and three in Division II. That’s a record that will never be duplicated, as Haselrig’s success prompted the NCAA to change the rules to prevent Division II and Division III wrestlers from competing for the Division I championship.
Never mind the fact that Haselrig didn’t play college football. It didn’t stop the Steelers from taking a chance on him, selecting him in the 12th round of the 1989 NFL Draft.
He went on to play four seasons as an offensive lineman with the Steelers—earning All-Pro honors in 1992, Bill Cowher’s first year as a head coach—before moving on to play one more season in the NFL with the New York Jets. In 1992 he helped Barry Foster rush for 1,690 yards, arguably the best-ever season by a Steelers running back. He started 16 games for the Steelers at right guard in both 1991 and 1992.
“I’m not sure people understand how incredible it was that Carlton Haselrig accomplished what he did without playing college football,” said former Steelers lineman Tunch Ilkin in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2001. “He had tremendous physical skills, but what set him apart was his understanding of leverage. At one of his first training camps, he was involved in some one-on-one drills and was just snatching guys by their shoulder pads with one hand and throwing them down. And those weren’t nobodies, they were NFL defensive linemen.”
Haselrig arrived in the NFL as part of the same draft class that produced running back Tim Worley and offensive tackle Tom Ricketts in the first round, safety Carnell Lake in round two, linebacker Jerrol Williams in the fourth round, cornerback David Johnson in round seven, and linebacker Jerry Olsavsky in the tenth round. Olsavsky is now in his sixth season as the Steelers’ inside linebackers coach, having been promoted to the position in Feb. 2015.
Giant Killer: The Carlton Haselrig Story
Last year author Kevin Emily published a biography called Giant Killer: The Carlton Haselrig Story, which highlights Haselrig’s athletic achievements, as well as his struggles with drug and alcohol abuse, which likely shortened his NFL career.
According to The Tribune-Democrat, in recent years Haselrig has served as an assistant coach of the football and wrestling teams at Greater Johnstown High School in Johnstown, where he went to high school.
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