New Hanover County Schools




Highsmith Jersey #34 Retired

Highsmith Jersey #34 Retired
Ashley alum and Steelers Linebacker Alex Highsmith Returns to Eagle's Nest for Ceremony
If you knew him in high school, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Alex Highsmith told the packed Eugene Ashley High School gym Friday night, you wouldn’t recognize him now.

He was just around 5’9 most of his Screaming Eagles career. The whole football team sometimes had to do conditioning drills over again because Alex wasn’t keeping up. His senior year they didn’t see one win the entire season.

But Highsmith, the son of two NHCS educators, saw something in himself that all of the D-1 recruiters who passed him over failed to.

He grinded in the gym and gained 30 lbs of muscle his senior year. He grinded on the field flipping tires by himself between games. He put his head down, he did the work, and he trusted that the grind would pay off.

At UNC Charlotte he famously walked-on to the team as a now-6’4 defensive end. A scholarship and a stellar college career followed, and in 2020 he got the call from Steelers coach Mike Tomlin that would change his life.

Back at the high school where his journey started, he stood with his family at center court as his #34 jersey was unveiled for retirement. His mom Pam, still a math teacher at Ashley, beamed.

Retired principal Sam Highsmith clasped his hands as he tried to hold back tears seeing his son in this full-circle moment.

It didn’t work.

It sounds like a cliché, Alex told the students in Steelers black and gold, but hard work pays off.

“There's gonna be bumps and bruises,” he said. “There's gonna be mountains, there's gonna be valleys, but just keep trusting the process and keep working and keep running and it’s all gonna pay off.”

After the ceremony he took to the stands to embrace his former teachers.
It was clear he wasn’t the outside linebacker with a $68 million contract to them; he was the kid from math class or history class, the kid with his head down grinding in the gym, the kid with good manners and strong faith and a great family and a dream that would not be deterred.

And they were mighty proud of that kid.

"I'm just super thankful to everyone who came out. All my family and friends that are here and all the people that I haven't seen in a while,” he said. “To see all the faces of the people who have helped me along my journey is just nothing sort of a blessing.”