LATROBE, Pa. — Every time JuJu Smith-Schuster catches a ball at training camp, even if there isn’t a defender involved, it brings cheers from the assembled crowd.
Every kid is yelling “JuJu” constantly, trying to get the young receiver’s attention.
After practice, he could spend hours signing autographs and still not quench the desire of all the fans who want one.
If it sounds like familiar behavior, it’s because that is how fans used to treat Antonio Brown when he was at Saint Vincent College.
Smith-Schuster, it seems, hasn’t just replaced Brown as the No. 1 receiver in the Steelers offense, he’s also replaced him in the hearts of Steelers fans.
At 22, Smith-Schuster is already one of the most popular players in the league. He’s also poised to become one of the top receivers in the game — if he’s not already there.
It surprises even Smith-Schuster.
“I can’t believe it has happened,” he told me. “It’s one of those things where I sit back and look in the mirror and I’m like, ‘Wow. I can’t believe where I’m at today.'”
And the scary thing is that he’s still getting better.
“He’s not even close to it,” Steelers receivers coach Darryl Drake told me Sunday of Smith-Schuster’s full potential.
“He’s still learning. He’s still absorbing. He’s still growing. The sky is the limit for him. He’s the kind of player that has different talents from other guys. He’s not just a jet. He’s a guy that has a tremendous amount of upside. And he has the right frame of mind. As long as he keeps that, stays humble and works, he’ll continue to grow.”
That has to be concerning to opponents.
Smith-Schuster has 169 catches for 2,343 yards and 14 touchdowns in his first two seasons, the most for any player before his 23rd birthday in NFL history. The league turns 100 this season.