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Steelers tackle Colon has come a long way since Hofstra

TAMPA, Fla. - Willie Colon stood on the sidelines of Raymond James Stadium, took one look at the thousands of reporters gathered for Super Bowl Media Day, and smiled.

"Not bad for a kid who grew up in the Bronx and went to Hofstra," he said.

Not bad at all.

Colon, a fourth-round draft pick in 2006, came to the Steelers the year after they'd won Super Bowl XL. "Just let us win this game," he said. "Just one ring. That's all I ask."

Colon will get that chance when he lines up on Sunday against the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII. He'll man his spot at right tackle, where he has been the starter since the final two games of his rookie season. He can't wait for the moment to arrive. As long as he doesn't pass out.

"There are going to be a few butterflies," he said. "I'm just going to try and not hyperventilate too much, keep my composure and have fun. I'm excited."

Colon enjoyed a standout career at Hofstra, but wasn't quite sure what to expect coming into the NFL. He'd converted from defensive line at Cardinal Hayes High in the Bronx, where he was a terrific pass rusher with 12 sacks as a senior and eight sacks in each of the previous two seasons. He received the team's Defensive Player of the Year award as a high school senior.

By working with then-Hofstra head coach Joe Gardi and then-offensive line coach Damian Wroblewski, Colon grew into a solid right tackle prospect. Colon said his experiences at Hofstra provided a terrific foundation, both from a football and academic perspective. He majored in interdisciplinary studies and aspires to a career in sports broadcasting after his playing days are over.

"It was great for me at Hofstra," Colon said. "I came away with so much, and now here I am, at the center of the [football] world. . . . Go Hofstra."

His NFL run hasn't been without its challenges. The Steelers' offensive line has come under criticism for its occasionally leaky pass blocking, although quarterback Ben Roethlisberger deserves some of the blame. Roethlisberger often decides not to throw to his original target, and attempts to scramble, putting additional pressure on his linemen. He has been sacked at least 46 times in each of the last three seasons.

Colon, who took over for an injured Max Starks (now the team's starting left tackle) after 14 games in his rookie season, makes no excuses.

"With our starting five, we all believe in each other," he said. "We take accountability for whatever happens. It doesn't matter what Ben does. If he stays back there for an hour, we have to protect him."

Making things even more challenging this season: Backup guard Darnell Stapleton, normally a center, was forced into the starting lineup alongside Colon at right guard, as the Steelers dealt with a slew of linemen injuries throughout the season.

"He's done a great job adjusting," Colon said. "I'm just here to help him."

Colon also is a key to the running game, and will attempt to open holes for tailback Willie Parker.

"I think [Parker] is a threat," Colon said. "You have to respect his speed. When we block it up right and then he gets to the hole, he gets the offense growing in their rhythm. That's what we try to do, establish a rhythm. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't."

If it works on Sunday, Colon lives the dream. And gets a Super Bowl ring as his reward.

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