Steele pursuing career as NASCAR pit crew member

Pro scouts time former James Madison University linebacker Gage Steele during JMU's Pro Day on March 15. Steele is now pursuing a career as a NASCAR pit crew member. Rich Cooley/Daily file

Gage Steele is moving on from football, but looking toward a possible new career in the world of sports.

The Warren County High School graduate recently went to a NASCAR Pit Crew Combine in Concord, North Carolina. Steele said that he found out a few days ago that he advanced to the next two-day camp in Concord, North Carolina, on July 12-14.

“Hopefully from there I can get on a team,” the former James Madison University football standout said in a telephone interview. “They pick like seven to 10 people and we’ll see what happens from there, but that’s what I’m focusing on right now.”

The former JMU linebacker earned a tryout for the New Orleans Saints at their rookie minicamp in Metairie, Louisiana, on May 12-14.

He said it was a great experience to have.

“It was definitely an awesome experience to go up there and have the competition at a level that I’ve never seen before was awesome,” Steele said. “Everybody up there was good. Everybody up there was competing, so it was definitely an environment I like to be in. It was fun learning a different defense and seeing how things work up there, and what different types of schemes they do as far as lining up against a certain offense.”

Steele said he enjoyed meeting some of the other rookies that were there, some of whom he knew from playing at JMU.

The 6-foot-1, 230-pounder said he got the call the day before he was supposed to leave for the rookie minicamp, so it was a quick turnaround but he was just happy that he got to experience it.

Steele left the camp without a contract, and said he hasn’t heard from the Saints or any other team since.

He said he was happy with how he performed for the Saints, but he didn’t feel like he got as much attention from coaches as he should have.

“Did I get the amount of reps that I wanted to get? No,” Steele said. “Did I get coached as much as I wanted to? No, not in my eyes. To me I feel like pretty much they already knew what they wanted and had some kids in there that they wanted to work with and get ready for the season. I understand that it was a rookie camp and everything, but that day I did the best with what I had, capitalized on pretty much all that I could do.

“I can just come away from that experience taking in a bunch of things I’ve learned that I can apply to life and then apply to myself as an athlete.”

It was after returning from the camp that Steele talked to JMU defensive coordinator Bob Trott, who suggested that Steele tryout for the NASCAR pit crew combine.

Steele said he had never even watched a NASCAR race before, but figured he’d give it a shot.

“It’s definitely something that I can see myself doing,” Steele said. “It’s pretty much just like a football team to be honest with you, except fewer guys and doing obviously a different thing. But they sit there, they train, they got to be in tip-top shape. It’s just something to keep my athletic ability going and looking forward to competing in something that’s really high stakes. I’m still continuing to learn about it, but it’s something I’m definitely interested in after I got to witness it these past couple weeks and especially at the combine.”

Steele has had an eventful couple months, including the birth of a daughter, Lillian. He said he and his wife Jacy have been really blessed with a healthy, beautiful baby.

Steele was one of five players from JMU’s National Championship team to be given a shot at the NFL.

Offensive lineman Mitchell Kirsch signed with the Chicago Bears as undrafted free agent on April 29. Cornerback Taylor Reynolds signed as an undrafted free agent with the Atlanta Falcons on April 29. Running back Khalid Abdullah signed as an undrafted free agent with the New York Giants.

Wide receiver and special teams standout Rashard Davis had rookie minicamp tryouts with both the New York Jets and the Chicago Bears.

Steele had a great career at JMU, finishing 10th all-time in tackles in school history with 354. He was able to cap off his college career by being part of a National Championship team this past season.

He said that if his football career is done, he’s very happy with everything he accomplished and to have had the opportunity to try out for an NFL team.

“I just continue to stay thankful and more blessed each and every day to have an opportunity to go do that,” Steele said. “I couldn’t be more thankful for everybody that helped me out. It was an awesome experience and something I can tell my kids, my family later on. Something that I’ll always take with me. Stuff that I can learn from it. Stuff that I can apply to my life. It was definitely a humbling experience, and it’s something that I’m always going to remember.”

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