When Tyson Alualu went down with a season-ending ankle injury last year, the Steelers lost a nose tackle, but his family lost a chauffeur.
"I'm used to being the one to take care of everything," Alualu was saying last week in the Steelers locker room. "If the kids have something, I'd schedule around being there, or taking them to sporting events, practices. So, it was like everything got put on hold where I couldn't do that anymore."
And the Steelers' run defense wasn't too good, either.
But now more than a year removed from that fractured ankle, the oldest player on the roster can look back and appreciate the struggle — from all angles. Alualu, 35, was voted as the Steelers' 2022 recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award, given to one player from each NFL team each season to recognize inspiration, sportsmanship and courage in overcoming adversity.
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Five days after Alualu accepted that honor, the oldest of his six children, Tyreé (pronounced ty-ray), helped North Allegheny High School win the Class 6A WPIAL football championship with a 35-21 win against Central Catholic. To think, neither of those moments would've come to pass had Alualu signed with Jacksonville last offseason after agreeing to terms with the Jaguars, only to be talked back into rejoining the Steelers by teammates and coaches.
"I don't really think about that whole situation," Alualu said of nearly returning to the city he called home for his first seven seasons, but he acknowledged that life can work in mysterious ways.
"It does, it does. ... To see [Tyreé] win a WPIAL championship is a blessing."
The Steelers have a Saturday night meeting every week they play on Sunday. When Mike Tomlin found out the WPIAL title game would be a Saturday, he excused Alualu from the team hotel so he could watch.
When Alualu was rehabbing his right ankle last year, the Steelers sent a car service to pick him up at home and take him to the practice facility each day. To hear Alualu tell it, continuing to be around the team kept him engaged and motivated him to attack his recovery process. But he's even more thankful for all the adjustments that were made by his wife, Desiré. Or, as Tyreé calls her, "my everything."
"I wish I could take all the credit, but there's just so many pieces that have helped me along the way to get me to where I'm at," Tyson Alualu said.
Alualu's days as a starter on the defensive line have come to an end, and he hasn't played more than 18 snaps in a game since Week 3, but he believes the reduced role could keep him fresher down the stretch. As he stares down what likely will be his final seven games as a Steeler, another Alualu is making his mark on the Pittsburgh football scene.
Tyreé, known to most as "Rey," is a junior running back and linebacker, the latest in a long line of Steelers offspring to star for North Allegheny. He has 52 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks, while averaging more than 5 yards per carry on offense.
Selected to the Post-Gazette's prestigious Fabulous 22 team, college ball certainly is in Tyreé's future, though at 5-foot-11, 215 pounds, he's much smaller than his 6-3, 304-pound father. The 10th overall pick in the 2010 draft casts a large shadow even by NFL standards, but Tyreé has never seen it that way.
"I'm definitely thankful for it," Tyreé said. "With the last name, I think everyone has their expectations of me. But I think of expectations as limits, so I like to surpass all those limits and be more than my dad's son."
Tyreé called it "very inspiring" to see his role model work his way back from a devastating injury. Tyson had his first child at a young age, but if you ask that kid now, he's been setting the standard for him ever since. One of the more quiet and reserved NFL players around, the elder Alualu has a different side to him as a parent, of course.
"Yeah, for sure," Tyreé said. "Especially when I'm not the best leader I can be for my siblings, he can really put it on me."
Among the Steelers, Tyson Alualu is more of a big brother himself. Longtime captain Cam Heyward has the most tenure on the team, but Alualu has him by one season in NFL experience and is two years older.
Alualu doesn't say much but leads by example. He isn't making as much of an impact on the field as he did before his injury, and yet that makes his recent honor even more significant, in a sense.
"It's always great when guys like that get recognition," said second-year defensive end Isaiahh Loudermilk, "because there are a lot of guys who aren't the flashy types, the beat-your-chest types. There are guys who come in, put their head down and go to work, kind of keep quiet most of the time. It's well-deserved."
Loudermilk added that he was impressed by how positive Alualu was through it all, an attitude that rubbed off on much younger teammates who are just beginning their journeys in pro football. And with such a long road back to the field, at his age, Alualu could've just hung up his cleats and called it a career.
"He's old, so that's not the easiest thing," veteran defensive end Chris Wormley said with a smile. "The oldest guy on the team comes back from a major injury like that and is still playing at a high level? I think that speaks a lot. There's not a lot of guys that are his age that put in the work and put in the time like he does. This is my sixth year in the league, and I've seen older guys kind of take it easy. He puts the work in every day."
On Friday night, Tyreé and North Allegheny travel to State College High School for a PIAA quarterfinal. Missing a team meeting is one thing, but Tyson won't be able to miss Saturday's practice, the last one before facing the Colts on the road Monday night.
So, the Alualus will pack up the car to drive there and back in one night. It hasn't been a fun year for the Steelers, but at least one Steeler family has victories big and small to celebrate this holiday season. Even if this is the final NFL chapter for Tyson Alualu, their story isn't finished.
"In life and this business, you never know what's going to happen. But, mentally, I don't take myself there," Alualu said of retirement. "It's just being in the moment. I think I'll know, maybe, toward the end of the season, get a better feel for it. But since I've been out, it's just been about enjoying the present."