Pine-Richland, YSU grad Rader Trying to Stick with Steelers

Once a highlight reel sensation, Pittsburgh TE wants consistency

Josh Rowntree
August 20, 2019 - 12:30 pm
Steelers TE Kevin Rader at practice in 2019

Josh Rowntree - 93.7 The Fan

When Kevin Rader arrived at the Steelers’ South Side facility for offseason workouts and was handed his new helmet, it was a moment that he, his entire life, had fantasized. But, quickly, Rader put that on the back burner. 

“It is a dream come true, because I’m from here,” said Rader, who graduated from Pine-Richland in 2013 before a solid career at Youngstown State. “I mean, my brother wore a Franco Harris jersey growing up. That was our family.

“But, where I’m at at this point, I can’t really think about it. Once you start thinking about it you get caught up in it and you’re going to lose focus on what you have to do at this time.”

Rader’s performance, through training camp and two preseason games, has been a bit of a mixed bag. He has caught three passes for 30 yards and has been strong in the run game. But, against Kansas City Saturday night, he was twice penalized for holding. He also lost a fumble against Tampa Bay the week prior. 

“Kevin’s done some good things,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “He’s not lacking in physicality. He’s consistently physical. He’s got to get better in terms of some of the minutia, some of the details relative to the position. But I like his energy. I like his physicality.”

Aggressive play has always come naturally to Rader, but he has not always had the frame to support it. And that caused Rader's dreams of a pro career to look more like pipe dreams.

“When I was at Pine-Richland I was small,” he said. “I was like 200 pounds my senior year. I played wide receiver and defensive end. I was always physical, but I wasn’t big enough to play tight end.”

So what changed? How about an 8,000 calorie per day diet and an aggressive workout regimen designed to up his size to that of Youngstown State’s more experienced tight ends.

“I was eating all the time,” he said. “Every three hours I’d have a meal just because I wanted to get to the point where I could play at that level.”

Getting bigger helped. As a redshirt freshman, Rader played in five games as a defensive end. The following year, he made the switch to tight end, but only caught four passes. 

Then came his junior season and one of the most significant plays in the program’s history. With no time remaining in the 2016 FCS Semifinals against Eastern Washington, Rader made a spectacular 5-yard touchdown catch in the back of the end zone, securing the ball on the back of a defensive back. 

The highlight reel play took off, earning the top spot on SportsCenter and sending the Penguins to the National Championship game. 

“My junior year of college was big,” he said. “No one really knew Youngstown State and that put us on the map.”

The following year, Rader started every YSU game, catching 22 passes for 272 yards and two touchdowns, including a 100-yard game against Pitt at Heinz Field, a venue Rader used to enjoy watching his favorite player, Heath Miller, play in. 

Rader spent last preseason with the Green Bay Packers, but did not make the team and was released. He then nearly ended up playing for a Pittsburgh rival, having discussions with the Cleveland Browns. But hesitation on Cleveland’s end led to a call from the Steelers. 

“It’s awesome just to come back home and get to play for the team I grew up watching all my life,” he said. “It’s an awesome experience. I never saw it coming. I love the fact that they wanted me and I’m happy to be here.”

The Steelers have two preseason games left and, in the middle, more practice opportunities for Rader to impress. Behind Vance McDonald, the Steelers are thin at tight end. Xavier Grimble has been inconsistent and rookie Zach Gentry has been injured. Rader, right now, looks like the fourth tight end. He hopes to move up a spot by the end of the preseason, as long as he can hammer down that ‘minutia’ his coach was talking about.

“Consistency and versatility,” he said. “The third tight end, you’ve got to be versatile to fill that gap where they need you for that play. And also special teams. You’ve got to be able to do all that stuff, running down the field making blocks and tackled. 

“The strength for me is my run blocking, my physicality and, at that point, it’s just executing when you get your chance.”

Two chances down, two to go for the hometown kid.

Hear more from Kevin Rader below.