PETERS TOWNSHIP (KDKA)–Clayton Evans was still in lacrosse season at Peters Township High School when he heard former Pittsburgh Steeler Jason Gildon would join his school’s football coaching staff.
Instantly, the news fired Evans up months before his senior season.
“I wanted to play football right then and there,” said Evans, a defensive end and guard. “I grew up watching him, and I love the Steelers. That was really cool.”
Gildon, who spent 10 years as a linebacker for the Steelers from 1994 to 2003, was named the defensive line coach at Peters Township. Gildon’s motive for coaching is wanting to get back into the sport he loves. The Wexford resident retired in 2004, after one-year with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Gildon has lived in Pittsburgh since joining the Steelers in ’94.
First-year Peters Township head coach Richard Piccinini discovered Gildon was interested in coaching when he hired wide receiver coach Scott Fichter, who coached one of Jason’s four sons at Eden Christian Academy. Piccinini learned Gildon was interested in coaching through Fichter.
“It was just one of those things where a friend of mine (Fichter) was also looking to start coaching, and I just mentioned to him, when he’s interviewing, if there’s a spot open, just mention my name and that’s what happened here,” Gildon said. “(Piccinini) called me, and we had a sit down interview, and here I am.”
Piccinini said he could tell Gildon was prepared for the interview, and believes he’ll be coaching at Peters for a “long time.”
“He wanted to coach. He’s just not just a name that wants to put his time in.
“I even asked him, ‘Hey do you want to just come down here and give your expertise?’ He said, ‘No coach, I want to coach. I’ll be here seven days a week.’ ”
Piccinini didn’t break the news about Gildon to his team, rather he just brought him into the weight room. Immediately, the football players, along with athletes from other sports, suddenly were all around to get a look at Gildon, Piccinini said.
Senior running back and safety Andrew Erenberg remembers the day clearly.
“I was in baseball season when Coach Pic hired Coach Gildon,” Erenberg said. “I saw him in the weight room and I mean obviously he’s a lot bigger than most people so I was like, ‘Who’s that guy?’ And then we found out it was Jason Gildon.”
Senior cornerback and running back Justin Miller said, “I was shocked. I was like, ‘Why Peters?’ It’s just great though. I’m not complaining. I just can’t believe he’s our coach. It’s gonna really help us.”
Gildon said his main goal as a coach is to make the players better than they were when the season started.
And the three-time Pro Bowler is doing just that, Evans said, who works with Gildon on a daily basis as a defensive end.
“(Gildon) gives me advice every day,” Evans said. “I pretty much learn something new every day from him. He’s taught me a lot about work ethic. He’s got a great one. He’s kind of instilling that in me and to just go 100 percent on the field, really.”
With four boy’s, ages 2, 10, 12 and 15, and wanting to get back into football, Gildon said getting involved at the high school level made the most sense.
“It’s perfect for me right now with the time schedule, not being this hectic, more of a light schedule,” he said. “I still have time for my family, and still allows me to come out here and be a part of a football team.”
As a linebacker for 11 seasons in the NFL, Gildon can’t help but sneak a look at the techniques used by players in his old position, despite coaching his defensive line.
Gildon said it’s hard not to look at the linebackers, and he sees himself doing it.
“But I started as a defensive lineman in high school and in college, so I think I still have some wisdom to impart at that position,” Gildon said. “It’s hard not to catch myself glancing down there at the linebackers.”
Gildon sees a little bit of himself in a few of the Peters Township players. Piccinini said Gildon gets involved with drills where he reenacts the other team’s defense, dropping into coverage sometimes.
“We have some guys that I think, with the right motivation, right coaching, can be very successful at this level,” Gildon said. “I always have my eye out for the guys who are displaying that will to win. We have a few guys out here like that.”
Even with the Steelers all-time sack leader (77) on the Peters Township coaching staff, not one of the high school players have asked for Gildon’s autograph. Instead, they have been all business.
“We haven’t run into that problem yet,” Gildon said about autographs. “I think the guys are pretty focused right now. Just ready to get out there on the football field and get the season started.”
Piccinini laughed when asked if anyone received Gildon’s autographs, saying, “That’s funny. I asked them that last week and nobody has. I don’t think anyone wants to come up to a coach and ask him for an autograph.”
For Erenberg, it’s not about an autograph, rather the opportunity to be coached by Gildon.
“I think just being a coach is good enough,” Evans said. “I’ll always remember Coach Gildon coaching me my senior year.”