VALLEY IN PRIME TIME


Packers’ Linsley has been a fan of green and gold for long time

By Tom Williams

williams@vindy.com

PITTSBURGH

Boardman’s Corey Linsley was almost 5 years old when Art Modell converted the Cleveland Browns into the Baltimore Ravens.

Like many children in the Mahoning Valley, Linsley then became a fan of a team with gold in the color scheme. However, his choice favored green, not black.

“I wasn’t a Steelers fan,” the Green Bay starting center said late Sunday after his Packers lost a heartbreaker to the Steelers, 31-28, at Heinz Field. “When the Browns left, I was actually a Packers fan.”

What won him over was the Packers defeating the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI to cap the 1996 season.”

“I was just band-wagoning it,” Linsley said.

His choice proved auspicious — a little more than 17 years after that Super Bowl, Linsley was drafted by the Packers in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft.

He became Green Bay’s first rookie center to start every game since the NFL went to a 16-game season in 1978.

Linsley, who played in 42 games at Ohio State, was one of four Mahoning Valley natives participating in the prime-time game. Mike Trgovac has been the Packers defensive line coach for 10 seasons.

Trgovac is an Austintown Fitch graduate who played for the University of Michigan. His NFL coaching career began in 1995 with the Philadelphia Eagles and he was the defensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers from 2003-08.

For the Steelers, Chaney graduate Jerry Olsavsky is the inside linebackers coach.

And activated on Saturday was running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, the Liberty High School graduate who played for Michigan. Toussaint joined the Steelers two seasons ago. When training camp ended in August, he was cut then added to the practice squad.

“It felt great,” said Toussaint of playing again. “It’s been a long time and I’ve been waiting patiently.”

Linsley is in his fourth NFL season, but Sunday’s game was the first time he’s played close to home in the regular season. That’s because the Packers are in the NFC and the Steelers and Cleveland Browns in the AFC. Their divisions only play each other every four years. (The Packers played a preseason game at Heinz Field in August 2015, the game where Green Bay wide receiver Jordy blew out his knee running,)

“It was cool playing at Heinz Field,” Linsley said. “I grew up right down the street, basically, only on the other side of the border.”

Many family and friends were in attendance, and he was anticipating seeing some familiar faces once his interview ended.

“My Dad came down [Saturday] and I had dinner with him,” Linsley said of the bonus of playing near his hometown.” A lot of my buddies were in town for Thanksgiving weekend.”

In 12 days, he’ll have another chance to see them when the Packers play the Browns on Dec. 10 at First Energy Stadium in Cleveland.

Linsley said his football roots paved the way for his career at Ohio State and in Green Bay,

“There are a lot of Youngstown guys in the NFL,” Linsley said. “I think we’re all very fortunate to come from where we are, and have the tradition that we have, and taking it to the NFL to do our best.”

Toussaint played four games with the Baltimore Ravens in 2014, then five with the Steelers in 2015. He played in both playoff games that postseason, earning some touches because Le’Veon Bell was injured. His fourth-quarter fumble helped the Broncos hang on for a 23-16 win over the Steelers in Denver,

In 2016, Toussaint played in all 16 games. After the Steelers drafted Pitt’s James Connor in April, Toussaint lost the training camp battle to backup Bell.

Life on the practice squad isn’t easy for someone itching to show off their speed.

“I’ve just been playing my part, doing what I can,” said Toussaint, now in his fourth NFL season. “You just stay ready, stay prepared.

“On this caliber of team, all you can do is be patient.”

A roster spot opened up when wide receiver and kick returner JuJu Smith-Schuster was put on the inactive list.

“I’m grateful for [the opportunity,” Toussaint said.

Linsley was a senior during Fitch’s Billy Price’s redshirt season in Columbus.

“Billy came in as a defensive lineman and I can say this now because he’s an ass-kicker now,” Linsley said. “He got his ass kicked, but he never quit and he never [complained].

“Instead, he said let’s try O-line. Next thing you know, he’s a viable first-round draft pick.”

Linsley expects Price’s name to be called on the first day of the 2018 Draft.

“He’s a helluva player, stronger than I am, which I’m sad to say but,” Linsley said with a laugh. “Billy is going to have himself a helluva career. He’s a hard worker — I’m real proud of him.”

Asked if he and Trgovac wagered on Saturday’s Ohio State-Michigan game, Linsley said Michigan guys “didn’t want any of that.”

Trgovac was unable to respond with a confirmation as Packers assistants are not permitted to speak with the media after games.

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