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Rashard Mendenhall has come a long way since appearing starring as a senior at Niles West (Skokie, Ill.) back in 2004. Five years later, he's a running back for the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. We caught up with Mendenhall to discuss the Champion Gridrion Kings, his high school playing days and life in the NFL.
ESPN RISE: What advice will you give to the players at the Gridiron Kings?
Rashard Mendenhall: One of the more important things is decision making. A lot of guys have that talent, but college is where a lot of people decide where they're going to be, who they're going to hang out with and things they're going to do.
RISE: How did you choose Illinois?
Mendenhall: I went there with my brother, Walter, because we wanted to go to the same school. It felt like the right fit. It had the perfect balance between football and school. We liked the program and the campus, and it was close enough to home but not too far away. For me, it felt right on all aspects.
RISE: Was there a moment when you were younger that made you realize you were on to something special?
Mendenhall: I was in sixth grade and I got a toss from like the 15-yard line. And nobody blocked anybody. But I made seven of the other team's guys all miss me. It was a series of jukes. Everybody was like, "Wow, he's going to be the next Barry Sanders." That's when I knew I was real talented.
RISE: What surprised you about life in the NFL?
Mendenhall: It's a lot like college, but just on a grand scale. When you walk around campus, people know you and they'll let you into places and stuff like that. It's just like college, but nationwide.
RISE: After a shoulder injury derailed your freshman season last year, how are preparing for next season? Mendenhall: Nothing too different. I was going through the rehab process, getting my shoulder back and all the motion and strengthening it back up. Now, I'm not feeling anything in my shoulder, so I'm back on a normal schedule, getting prepared for training camp and working on speed, explosion and those kinds of things.