NFL

How JuJu Smith-Schuster Is Redefining the Modern Pro Athlete

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ season hasn’t gone as expected so far. They knew they’d lack two key pieces of their offense, with wide receiver Antonio Brown expected to play for the Raiders — though that didn’t work out — and running back Le’Veon Bell going to the Jets.

What they didn’t expect, though, is quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s season-ending elbow injury in Week 2. A bright spot for the Steelers in what’s quickly becoming a lost season is JuJu Smith-Schuster. The wide receiver has become one of the top athletes at his position and a brand name off of it.

JuJu Smith-Schuster’s NFL career

The Steelers selected the USC wide receiver in the second round (No. 62 overall) of the 2017 NFL Draft. Smith-Schuster played in 14 games his rookie year and started in seven of them. He had 58 receptions for 917 yards and seven touchdowns. Those aren’t bad numbers for a rookie, however, his true breakout season came last year.

In 2018, Smith-Schuster nearly doubled his reception total to 111 as he became one of Roethlisberger’s favorite targets. On his catches, he gained 1,426 yards and scored another seven touchdowns. Smith-Schuster also scored a rushing touchdown on the only carry of his career to date.

Through the first six games of the 2019-20 season — playing with second- and third-string quarterbacks most of the time — the athlete has had 25 catches for 340 yards and two touchdowns.

Smith-Schuster’s off-field interests

Smith-Schuster has a number of hobbies when he’s not on the gridiron. His biggest interest may be video games. It’s not unusual for the 22-year-old to have all-night gaming sessions, and he’s said he’d probably be a professional gamer if he didn’t play football.

Famously, Smith-Schuster is a fan of Fortnite, even asking teammates during games if they’ll play with him later in the day. He also enjoys social media and has built up quite a following. The wide receiver more than one million Twitter followers, nearly three million Instagram followers, and about 850,000 YouTube subscribers.

Smith-Schuster is also a proud parent to dog Boujee, who has his own Instagram account with 225,000 followers. The NFL player has also voiced his love for cartoon TV series The Powerpuff Girls.

Smith-Schuster builds his brand

Smith-Schuster does a good job of building his brand outside of the NFL. When he lost his bike, he turned it into a national cause by creating #TeamFindJuJusBike.

The Long Beach, California native is always filming himself for his YouTube channel. One of his more memorable uploaded moments was when he pranked Pittsburghers as a “fake JuJu” by going undercover as a news reporter and interviewing fans about himself.

But he’s not always focused on social media. Smith-Schuster went to a high school prom in June 2019 with a boy whose date dumped him. After autographing a fan’s head, Smith-Schuster promised the man free tickets if he got the autograph tattooed on him. The fan did, and Smith-Schuster lived up to his promise, hooking him up with Steelers season tickets.

The young NFL star is part of a generation that grew up on social media, and he’s taking full advantage of it. Smith-Schuster is redefining what a modern athlete can and should do in terms of promoting himself, interacting with fans, and doing good deeds.