We’ll forgive JuJu Smith-Schuster if he didn’t expect to be thrust into Internet stardom four weeks into his NFL career, he is only 20 years old after all.
Smith-Schuster, the Steelers’ rookie wide receiver, caught the eye of millennials everywhere last week, sparking a Twitter debate and frenzy surrounding his “Dragon Ball Z” inspired touchdown celebration, a callback to his favorite childhood cartoon.
“I came up with that celebration during the week,” Smith-Schuster told Yahoo Sports. “When I scored a touchdown I wanted to make it special to relate to the fans. Growing up as a child, Goku was one of my favorite characters, ‘Dragon Ball Z’ was the thing to watch for me.”
While Smith-Schuster doubted the reception his planned celebration would receive, his teammates didn’t.
“[Practice squad receiver] Marcus Tucker was saying ‘Bro, if you do that, it’s going to go viral,’” Smith-Schuster said.
“I was surprised because not everybody knows about it. What really surprised me was the older crowd didn’t know what it was but the kids around my age knew what it was right away.”
Turns out, the celebration and demographic fit Smith-Schuster perfectly. The second-round pick out of USC is the youngest player in the NFL, a role he’s ready to embrace.
“Most definitely [I can be a star for younger kids],” Smith-Schuster said during an interview promoting the upcoming video game “Call of Duty: World War II” which features Steelers teammates Le’Veon Bell and Alejandro Villanueva.
“I can relate to that age level. I think a lot of the guys on the team, when we played ‘Call of Duty’ as a team, I was surprised at who was there and how many were there.”
Touchdown celebrations and video games aside, Smith-Schuster has been thrust into a unique situation in his rookie season. The Long Beach, California native has had to deal with the NFL’s recent national anthem debate as well as drama surrounding the Steelers’ decision to remain in the locker room in Week 3.
“That situation, Coach [Mike] Tomlin told us we want to be united as one,” Smith-Schuster said. “Obviously two Sundays ago it took on a life of its own. Each week I am just focused on playing the game I love. I support everyone, whatever they stand for, they stand for. But ultimately, being a rookie, being able to produce and win every week is my goal.”
Although the anthem noise has died down, Antonio Brown’s recent sideline outburst has now become a storyline the 3-1 Steelers.
“I think the media is taking it to another level,” Smith-Schuster said. “Honestly, with Antonio Brown and how he is, he’s a great player overall, he’s my idol. He wants the ball and when the ball is in his hands, he makes plays.
“I think when Antonio Brown gets his touches and has the ball in his hands, the offense moves a lot smoother and we put points on the board. What he did is what he did, but at the end of the day I think he’s going to get right and he’s going to come out and make big plays for us this week.”
He may be a budding NFL star, but put that, and all of the football-related drama aside, Smith-Schuster is still just a kid at heart.
“For me to be 20 years old and in the league, that’s where all of my free time is going, to playing ‘Call of Duty’ and video games.”
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