SHARPENED STEELE: Smile-free (almost) work ethic keeps JSU 'D' plugging along

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Joe Medley, The Anniston Star, Ala.
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Apr. 8—JACKSONVILLE — John Grass reports to work as Jacksonville State's head football coach daily, looking to make his quarterbacks more efficient, offensive linemen better blockers and defenders better tacklers.

Well, except George Steele.

The sophomore cornerback/nickel has tackling down in spades.

Man-to-man coverage? Check.

Steele mastered zone coverages between fall and spring, just in time for increased playing time as JSU patches injury-blown holes for nickel Kolbi Fuqua and corners Malik Feaster and Yul Gowdy.

No, Grass's day isn't complete unless he achieves one, very elusive goal.

"My goal, when I come in, I've had a successful day if I can get George Steele to smile," Grass said.

What?

Corners are talkers.

Like drill-sergeant-gift, trash-to-treasure talkers, and that kind of talking requires a sense of humor.

Steele has clearly shown there's another way to do it. He moved from nickel to start JSU's last four games at cornerback, and JSU's defense has not missed a beat.

Defense has been a constant as JSU heads into Sunday's winner-take-all game for the Ohio Valley Conference championship at Murray State, as true as Steele.

"I don't have any reason to smile," the former all-state pick from Hewitt-Trussville said. "I approach everything like it's a business. ...

"I take it real serious. It's a job to me. You can get fired any day."

Maybe it has something to do with Steele being the son of working parents, his mom with the Veterans Administration and his dad in a warehouse.

Maybe it has something to do with Steele's interest in studying electrical engineering. Engineers love to learn all about how things work.

Steele? He obsesses.

"You are not going to find anyone more dedicated than what he is, and he has been that way since he came here," Grass said. "Extreme, extreme top-shelf work ethic.

"He's always doing something extra, whether it be after practice or on days off. He is one of the guys that you have to pull the reins back on him, or he'll do too much."

Steele is the kind of player coaches love talking about. Injuries opened the door, and he worked his way through it.

It's who he is, by George, and it's not just football. Grass said he's seen Steele work "hours upon hours" trying to master difficult math classes that come with Steele's area of study.

He won't let it go.

"He does the same thing in football," Grass said. "He wasn't good on zone coverage in the fall. He corrected that this spring. He knows better how to play zone coverage.

"That's allowed him to be that analogy of a Swiss Army knife, moving from nickel to corner, wherever he needs to be."

Steele has become "a technician," a handful for wide receivers in practice.

"He is a very patient and very physical player," JSU teammate Ahmad Edwards said. "He does not want to lose a rep, like I don't want to lose a rep.

"Going against him has made me the player I am today. We work well together, and he is just a workhorse."

As for smiling, Steele's attempts come in quick flashes. A reporter's question about smiling prompted him to flash his teeth briefly this week. Another reporter pointing out Steele's famous wrasslin' namesake brought a grin, as well.

They called the wrassler "The Animal." JSU's Steele doesn't waste much time thinking of nicknames, but if he had one?

"Everybody calls me that now," he said. "I'd say 'Iron Man,' or something."

Sounds about right.

Sports Writer Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter: @jmedley_star.