Ryan Hites and Todd Fennick had never heard of Steve Courson before he spoke Oct. 26 at Laurel Elementary School.

The former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman’s glory days — on the team’s 1978 and 1979 Super Bowl teams — took place a generation before the sixth graders came along.

But the 11-year-olds took note of what they heard in what might have been Courson’s final public appearance.

Courson, 50, was killed Nov. 10 at his Fayette County home when a tree he was cutting fell on him.

“He said to make good choices in what you do when you grow up,” said Fennick, the quarterback and kicker of Laurel’s championship sixth-grade football team.

Hites, who played tackle and guard for the team, recalls Courson telling the students what would happen if their choices were not good.

“He also said avoid steroids,” he said. “I was impressed.”

Courson, who joined the Steelers as a free agent in 1978, had become addicted to steroids during his playing days at the University of South Carolina. He continued the practice while with the Steelers. He became one of the first NFL players to admit to using the drugs and to speak out against them.

Retiring in 1985 following a trade to Tampa Bay, he was diagnosed in 1988 with a weakened and enlarged heart — the result of steroid use. Overweight and given four years to live, Courson was placed on a heart transplant list. He battled his way back to good health though diet and exercise.

He wrote a book, “False Glory,” about his steroid days. In 1989, he testified before the U.S. Senate investigating performance-enhancing drugs used by the NFL, and in April before the U.S. House of Representatives, investigating steroid use in baseball.

Lately, he had become a personal trainer and enjoyed working with youngsters, encouraging them to eat healthy, exercise and to avoid steroids and other performance-enhancing substances.

“He told us how he almost died as a result of steroid use,” said Laurel elementary principal Dennis Devorick. “He challenged each of the 760 students, kindergarten through grade six, to do their best and have a healthy character. He signed autographs, interacted with students and staff and touched our hearts.”

Devorick said Courson came to the district through the National Character Foundation of Zelienople.

“He said he used faith, healthy living and a positive outlook to overcome depression caused by the death of his wife, his father and his friend and fellow Steeler, center Mike Webster, who all have died within the past few years,” Devorick said.

“He said he found meaning by going to schools and working with children.”

Courson told the students he was in the best of health and that his heart was healed due to his lifestyle changes.

“He also said his best friends were his two dogs, black Labs Rufus and Rachel, and they make him feel special when he comes home.”

Devorick said he understands that Courson was trying to protect one of the dogs, which he said was getting old and arthritic, when the tree fell on him.

Courson was remembered in the school’s Veterans Day program on Friday.

“We read a poem and put up a pictures from when he was there,” Devorick said. “We recalled what he said about having a healthy character and making right choices.

“He told the students he has two Super Bowl rings but what he went through to get there almost killed him.”

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