Meet the New Steeler: DE Johnny Maxey


photo via Mars Hill Athletics 

I thought about titling this article “Johnny Maxey, Man of Mystery.” He went to a school hardly anyone has heard of, he plays a position but nobody is quite sure which one, and nobody knows how long he will be a Steeler. This is the hard reality of writing these profiles—I have to finish them quickly, because once training camp begins there is no telling how much longer they will be on the roster.

It’s already too late for some of them. When deciding who to profile I looked at the list the Steelers published of the undrafted free agent signings immediately after the draft. I was intrigued by a couple of things I saw about TE David Reeves out of Duke. But before I started researching him I checked the current roster, and it is a good thing I did, because he wasn’t on it. I discovered after a bit more digging that the Steelers released him to make room for former Steeler David Johnson, and that was the end (at least for now) of David Reeves’ career as a Steeler.

But Johnny Maxey is still definitely with the team, so let’s check out the mysterious man.

First, as I mentioned, is his school. He went to (and graduated from, I’m happy to say) Mars Hill University. [His degree is in criminal justice.] I apologize to all you Mars Hill alumni out there, but I had never heard that there was such a place. But there is, in Mars Hill, North Carolina. Here is a little of the history, from their website:

Mars Hill University was founded as the French Broad Baptist Institute in Madison County in 1856, in the days leading up to the Civil War. Shortly thereafter, the name was changed to Mars Hill College, inspired by Acts 17:22, which said, “Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill and said, ‘Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.’”

You wouldn’t think an institution opposed to superstition would have a sports program, as players (and fans for that matter) are notably superstitious. But things have clearly changed in the past 170 years, and it is now Mars Hill University.

The football program was established in 1963, and they play in Division II of the South Atlantic conference. Their overall record is 251-271-10, but last season they had a winning record (6-5,) in part because of Johnny Maxey.  The Steelers were interested enough in him that Mike Tomlin called him personally. It has been noted before that Tomlin clearly has a persuasive way about him, and it certainly worked on Maxey, as Jim Wexell noted in a article:

“I was lost for words at the time,” Maxey said of talking to Tomlin. “But as soon as I came to I was ready to go to work, thanked him for the opportunity, and right here right now I’m just trying to do my part to make this team.”

Maxey said other teams called but he told them they were too late. He had signed right away with the Steelers.

“I like the Steelers organization,” he said. “When I talked to my agent he said it would be a good fit for me, for my play style and my abilities, so it was one of the first teams I talked to. Everybody else was afterwards. I’m glad I signed here.”

The next mystery is his position. He is listed almost everywhere as a DT, but the Steelers clearly intend to use him, if he sticks, as a defensive end, and lined him up next to Javon Hargrave in their 3-4 alignment during minicamp. And I suppose at less than 300 lbs. he’s more of an end than a tackle. Curiously, he measured at 293 at his pro day (at Wake Forest, since I suppose Mars Hill doesn’t have its own), but the Steelers have him listed at 6-5, 283 lbs.. I don’t know whether he was asked to take off weight, did take off weight, or the Steelers are hinting that he should take it off.

So what made Mike Tomlin keen enough on Maxey to call him personally? Well, he had a really nice stat line last season—11 games, 82 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, and 3 fumble recoveries. As a result he earned second-team All-Conference Honors. How likely is this to transfer to the NFL? It’s a mystery, just like most everything else about Mr. Maxey. covered some of the athletes at the New Orleans regional combineincluding Maxey. (Players who don’t get a national combine invite have to pay their own way to go to the regional combines. This argues that Maxey certainly believes in himself, whether everyone else is overlooking him or not. Here’s what they said about him:

When a 6-5, 305-pound defensive tackle is coming with 4.9 speed, he going to cause some damage. Johnny Maxey Jr. of Mars Hill is massive and agile as he executed that attribute during his short shuttles. He demonstrated great footwork with the ability to get off the ball, he is surely a NFL star waiting to happen.

So now he’s 305 pounds. I told you he was mysterious. He slightly pulled a hamstring after some of the events and had to bow out, but it does indeed sound as if he is athletic.

His college coach had plenty of good things to say about him:

Mars Hill Head Football Coach Tim Clifton stated, “We are excited and proud of Johnny Maxey. He has worked very hard during the offseason and it has paid off. Johnny has the size, talent, and work ethic to be successful at the next level. We wish him the very best and will be pulling for him in the fall.”

This is all I can find on Maxey. I told you he was mysterious. Things will undoubtedly become more clear in training camp, for good or ill. The Mars Hill coach should be pulling for him in the summer, actually. So welcome to Pittsburgh, Mr. Maxey, and may your sacks be many and your annoyances few….






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