| By Myra Bean
It was a red letter day at Batesville Elementary School Friday as favorite son Deshea Townsend visited.
Taking some of his off season break to come home, Townsend, cornerback of the Superbowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers, went from classroom to classroom and spoke to the students.
Many did not know him by face but when they heard the name, they knew exactly who he was.
Townsend had to answer some hard questions, but had done his homework and got through the grilling of the kindergarten and first grade fans.
Though most of the boys were interested in what he did on the football field, the girls kept pace. One student in Jackie Johnson’s class said she was a girl and couldn’t play ball.
Townsend disagreed and said girls can play football.
Many of the students told of their brothers, cousins and uncles who play for the state champion South Panola Tiger football team.
Townsend told them he was on the first state championship team "a long time ago." Actually, he quarterbacked the 1993 state championship team.
Townsend went on to play college football for the University of Alabama and was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1998.
Four years later in 2002 when Townsend was a free agent, Pittsburgh re-signed him to a four-year deal. It paid off with the Superbowl Championship this year.
After this past season, Townsend was again a free agent and just signed another four-year contract to remain with the Steelers.
Financial terms of the deal were not released.
"It’s a great opportunity to be back," said Townsend. "This is always where I wanted to be, I have been here eight years and to have the opportunity to stay in the black and gold for as long as they allow me to be here is going to be great. The fans here are the greatest. I had other opportunities that were out there, but this is the best fit for Deshea, and that is why I’m here."
Townsend (5-10, 190), who will be entering his ninth season with the team in 2006. He currently has the longest tenure of any defensive player on the team and has played in 123 career games, according to a Steelers.com news release.
Townsend has started 46 games in his career with Pittsburgh, including 23 over the past two seasons. He started 15 of the 16 regular-season games in 2005 and all four postseason games. Townsend’s three sacks in 2005 tied for the most by a Steelers defensive back.
For his career, Townsend has 261 career tackles and 14.5 sacks, including one in Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl XL victory over the Seattle Seahawks. He is the Steelers’ active leader in interceptions with 14, including two in 2005.
"Sometimes when you have a good team and you have some good players on a team, sometimes guys just get taken for granted," said Kevin Colbert, director of football operations for the Steelers. "Sometimes they’re overlooked and sometimes they are the unsung heroes. When you think about Deshea Townsend, you think about a guy who has always been there for us and continued to make play after play. It certainly did not go unnoticed by us."
As Colbert said, Townsend is a guy whose contributions often went unnoticed by casual fans, but his return gives the team a savvy and versatile veteran who can help the team both on the outside or lined up over a receiver in the slot. Even with the departure of their starting free safety, the Steelers will enter the draft with a secondary loaded with both experience and youth.
"You always need good corners on your team, you can never have enough," said Townsend. "With the young guys, and myself, I still feel that I am young and still able to go out there and play, it is just going to make us a better team."
According to , Townsend said his mind-set from the outset of free agency was to find a way back to the Steelers. After sweating out the CBA extension with the rest of the NFL owners and players, Townsend made only one visit.
That was to New England where he met with Coach Bill Belichick.
"You always want to go out and see what your options are, but in your heart you always want to be where you started," said Townsend. "That was the most important thing for me."
Whether the Patriots actually made an offer to Townsend is unknown, but when the Steelers presented theirs, he decided to take it and end all of the uncertainty.
"It’s important for me, knowing the coaches, knowing how things are run here on a day-to-day basis; those types of things make you comfortable," Townsend told . "It’s a pleasure to be with my teammates again. These are guys I know work hard together; we go out there and sweat. It’s always good to have those people back around you. The situation here is the best. There’s no other organization I would rather play for. It’s the only organization I know. That really made it easy for me."