Pittsburgh’s JuJu Smith-Schuster is not only one of the NFL’s brightest young stars, he’s also one of the league’s most-accessible players. Smith-Schuster is active on social media, philanthropically and will even play with fans on Fortnite.
Smith-Schuster’s talent and personality have enabled him to make a lot of fans since being drafted by the Steelers in 2017. Now, he’s in the middle of taking the next step, which is proving he can be the focal point of an offense after the departures of Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown.
Off the field, Smith-Schuster is taking part in a campaign with Tide alongside former NFL legend Peyton Manning and entertainers Kenan Thompson, Nick Offerman, Gwen Stefani, Lauren Ash and others. We spoke with him this week about his work on-and-off the field.
No matter when #LaundryNight is, I know #SteelerNation is always reppin' fresh Black and Gold. Reply to THIS TWEET with #LaundryNight & your cleanest @Steelers gear to prove we have the best fans in the 🌎 (I’ll RT my fav) @Tide #Ad pic.twitter.com/LxCatXc0qn
— JuJu Smith-Schuster (@TeamJuJu) October 1, 2019
Get ready to learn about JuJu’s gaming habits, his dog’s Instagram, the best defensive backs he’s matched up with and much more.
The Spun: What has this season been like for you? When you were drafted in 2017, it was Ben [Roethlisberger], AB [Antonio Brown] and Le’Veon Bell. Then, Le’Veon sits out last year. Now, AB is gone and Ben is out. How has it been an adjustment for you being ‘the’ guy in Pittsburgh?
JJSS: It’s just been something I’ve been working on. Being the No. 1 guy, I have to be more of a leader, more vocal. I have to be the guy in our receiver room who stands up and says ‘We’ve got to do this, we’ve got to do that.’ It’s been fun. I have great teammates around me and I’m able to communicate with them. Everyone on our team has a voice.
The Spun: What is the biggest difference you’ve noticed on the field now that you’re the No. 1 guy, in terms of defensive coverage or strategies?
JJSS: Double teams, me seeing the No. 1 corners a lot, just being the focus of a lot of other team’s game plans. That’s what I’ve noticed. Even last night [Monday against the Cincinnati Bengals], when it’s third down and I’m seeing the double team inside and out and a guy over the top. It gets other guys open and they’re able to make their plays.
The Spun: You guys started 0-3, and automatically a lot of outside people look to the future and throw this season away. However, what kind of message does it send to you in the locker room about the expectations for this season when your team goes out and trades for Minkah Fitzpatrick and Nick Vannett?
JJSS: It says that we’re not playing for next year and the future. We’re playing for this year. For us to trade our  first-round pick for Minkah and he comes out first game and makes plays. And also Vannett for him to come over on Wednesday and play in this game and play really, really well, it surprised all of us. Coach [Tomlin] is saying we’re not playing for next year. We’re playing for this year right now.
The Spun: How are things going with Mason Rudolph? What have you noticed for him after seeing him start a couple of games?
JJSS: I’m looking at a guy who studies really hard, very into details. Every game, he talks to us after every play. We’re always communicating and telling him what we see. We’re just trying to make him feel better and be comfortable in the pocket. We’re there to make him and all of us look good. That’s something that he likes a lot, that we communicate with him on the field.
The Spun: Speaking of talking on the field, you were mic’ed up during Monday night’s game and it was pretty funny. You kept asking your teammates what they were doing after the game. What did you actually wind up doing?
JJSS: I ended up getting treatment and then I hopped on Fortnite, caught a couple dubs (wins) and went to bed.
The Spun: Speaking of Fortnite, you’re developing almost as big a following for that as you have for football. What else are you playing these days? And what about Fortnite makes it so fun and has drawn you to it?
JJSS: I’ve been playing the Call of Duty beta lately, but it’s just the beta and not the full game. I’m super excited for that to come out this fall. That’s a game that I’ll be playing heavy. One of the coolest things about Fortnite is I play NA East server which is the East Coast and my name is JuJu_Steelers19 and so many random fans are like ‘You’re not the real JuJu’ and it’s so funny because I’ll go on my Instagram or Live them to show them it’s actually me. They get so excited. Those are the best moments about Fortnite.
The Spun: If you could live or actually exist in a video game for a little bit, what do you think would be the best one to be in?
JJSS: Oh man, that’s such a good one. I mean, Call of Duty, that’s pretty intense. Fortnite is fun too. But I’d probably be in GTA. Honestly, if I could just be in GTA and do whatever I want and then come back to life and just do it again [laughing]. Something wild where I could rewind so many times.
The Spun: You’re very interactive with fans while gaming and on social media. How about related to fantasy football? Do you feel pressure or do you hear from fans who want you to perform for their fantasy team?
JJSS: Oh I hear it for sure. Like this past game, if you’re one of the last guys playing on Monday Night Football, fans could be down like 10, 20 or 40 points and they’ll be like ‘I need all 40 points from you.’ I’m like, ‘I don’t have control over how many points I get you [laughing].’ I’m just hear to do my job. If I can get you those points I will. It’s so funny because I get so many messages like ‘JuJu you’re the last guy I need 10 points.’ I don’t feel pressure with that, although my cousin did tell me last night he needed points and I didn’t get it for him and he was disappointed in me today.
The Spun: What is more work on social media: your own pages or your dog Boujee’s Instagram page?
JJSS: Oh my dog’s page is so much work. It’s hard to find content. I have to take time out of the day to post this, post that. Definitely my dog’s page [is more work]. But the one thing about having a dog page, you post something and everybody loves it.
The Spun: Is the other dog in your posts Boujee’s actual girlfriend?
JJSS: Oh yes, that’s Portia. She’s actually here right now. That’s the awesome thing. Her owner lives in my apartment building, so they always hang out, and I’m able to drop him off at her place and they can hang out.
The Spun: Just a couple of more questions. For you, who has been the toughest guy to go up against in your first couple of seasons and what made him such a challenge?
JJSS: I would say there are some guys who are really really good at the position. Last year, I was playing against a guy like Jalen Ramsey. He’s 6-foot-2, very long arms and very physical at the line. He’s one guy whose game I respect. He’s one guy I like going up against. This year, I had the chance to go up against [New England Patriots cornerback Stephon] Gilmore. He’s another good corner I like playing against and I’d like to have more opportunities to go up against him.
The Spun: Lastly, having played in college in California at USC, have you followed the new law regarding college athletes being able to potentially make money off of their name and likeness?
JJSS: I wish I could have been a part of that, because when I was there, they sold so many No. 9 jerseys. I could obviously have made a lot of money, but I’m happy for the guys who are getting that chance now. It’s awesome to see individual players who worked their butt off having a chance to make some type of money.