PEORIA — Kendrick Green was napping Sunday morning when a call came across his phone.
From a Pittsburgh-area number.
Not a surprise, considering the former Illinois guard was drafted 87th overall Friday night by the Steelers in the 2021 NFL draft.
Who delivered that phone call, however, still gave Green a bit of a jolt.
“I answer the phone and he’s like, ‘Hey, it’s Ben Roethlisberger,’ and I’m just talking it up to him,” Green said of the Steelers’ 17-year starting quarterback. “I told him, ‘As long as I can remember, you’ve been the quarterback for the Steelers.’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah, way to make me feel old.’”
Green’s next goal is to earn a regular job protecting Roethlisberger.
Green took a rare day off Sunday before getting “back to punching the clock” on Monday. He said he anticipates traveling to Pittsburgh within the next few weeks for a rookie mini-camp with his new employer.
“I plan on trying to take the job right away,” Green said. “I’m going to go in and compete. They’ve got some older guys that have been in the league for a little bit there at that position. Kind of surreal, to be honest, but I’m ready to do it.”
Which position is Green vying for, exactly?
Though he largely played guard for three seasons at Illinois and was listed at that position on the NFL draft board, Darryl McDaniels — the “DMC” in the hip hop group Run-DMC — announced Green as a center during Friday’s third round of the draft.
“We’re going to start working on center,” Green said. “They liked the tape I put on at center when I did have to fill in for Doug (Kramer). But overall, I think what it was is just the fact that, regardless of what position I was playing, I’m trying to go out there playing hard, trying to finish guys and put people on their back.”
Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh’s 11-year starting center, retired earlier this year. B.J. Finney, 29, currently is listed as the Steelers’ No. 1 center on ESPN.com’s depth chart. Green already is listed as the team’s No. 2 center and No. 2 left guard behind 24-year-old Kevin Dotson at the latter position.
Green said he began conversations with Steelers representatives back in January, taking a Zoom call with general manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin at that time. Offensive line coach Adrian Klemm also attended Illinois’ Pro Day in March.
“Me and my agent, we kind of knew that was a potential landing spot,” Green said. “They showed a lot of interest in the pre-draft process.”
Green said he anticipated being drafted as soon as late in the second round come this past Friday night, but he added that he isn’t carrying a chip on his shoulder because he slid into the third round.
“It was pretty nerve-racking, to be honest, but obviously it ended up working out well,” Green said. “I just want to prove to the Pittsburgh Steelers that they made the right choice.”
One highlight of Green’s draft night watch party, seen through video clips on social media, was Green’s younger sister being as hyped as her brother when Green was drafted.
“Everyone was stoked for me. My little sister, she doesn’t even know what the hell is going on, but she saw me happy so she’s happy,” Green said. “It was a great moment. I’m happy I got to share it with everyone.”