Lake Elmo’s Brian Arnfelt signed a free agent contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday following the completion of the NFL Draft.
The 2008 Stillwater Area High School graduate is among a group of 15 rookie free agents who will join the team’s nine drafted players for minicamp on Friday through Sunday in Pittsburgh.
Several teams expressed interest in Arnfelt and indicated they might select him with one of their late picks depending on how the draft played out, but when that didn’t happen Arnfelt and his agent Mike Ballard decided on the Steelers — signing just moments after the draft concluded.
“They’re a phenomenal franchise and they run a great operation,” Arnfelt said. “The coaching staff is good, great actually, and they have a history of keeping a good percentage of guys they bring in. They also play a 3-4 defense and we thought that would be a good fit for me. I can go back to where I played at Stillwater, most likely at the (defensive end) spot.”
Arnfelt served as one of four team captains as a senior for the Wildcats this past fall. He finished the season with 25 total tackles, including six for a loss, and three sacks for minus-26 yards in 13 games. He also forced two fumbles and added a fumble recovery. The 6-foot-5, 305-pound defensive tackle was named the team’s Defensive Player of the Week after recording four tackles, including one for a loss, in a 22-13 victory over Boston College on Sept. 15.
Arnfelt, who contributed to what is the winningest senior class in the history of Northwestern football, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.81 and bench-pressed 225 pounds 38 times during Northwestern’s pro day in early March. The bench press reps were impressive when you consider the most of any player participating in the NFL combine was also 38, which was achieved by defensive end Margus Hunt of SMU and defensive tackle Brandon Williams of Missouri Southern. Hunt was drafted by the Bengals in the second round and Williams was selected by the Ravens in the third round.
It was only five years ago Arnfelt was a 235-pound senior competing for the Ponies, who he helped lead to their most recent state tournament appearance as a junior in 2006. He also qualified for state in the shot put as a member of the track team.
He has always imagined playing in the NFL, but Arnfelt is also aware of the challenges that remain. Contracts are not guaranteed in the NFL and there are no assurances, even for players drafted in the early rounds, when it comes to a career in professional football.
“Obviously, a lot of kids when you grow up, you dream of playing in the NFL,” he said. “It was definitely a dream of mine, but you have to progress to where you make the varsity team, then go on to play Big Ten football and you get older and see how you’re playing and this situation presents itself, so it’s a progress, and it’s absolutely a dream of mine.”
In four seasons with the Wildcats, Arnfelt totaled 47 tackles and three sacks in 37 games. The Academic All-Big Ten selection was also the recipient of the Brian Paynter Ultimate Wildcat Award, which is presented to the player who confronts adversity with courage and dedication.
Arnfelt already owns a degree in communications studies, with minors in business institutions and legal studies, and is expected to finish up his master’s in sports administration in June. He was admitted to the master’s program last summer, which gave him a head start that is paying off now while he’s enrolled in three classes instead of four.
His schedule remains busy while balancing academics and a grueling workout regimen. A typical day includes up to two hours of running, followed by a 30-minute break and then two-plus hours in the weight room — followed by flexibility work and then a cool down.
“You also have to make sure you’re on top of nutrition, so it’s kind of a full-time job,” Arnfelt said.
The past few months have been hectic, but Arnfelt has also benefited from training with and receiving helpful advice from former Northwestern teammates and current NFL players Corbin Bryant (Bills) and Corey Wootton (Bears).
“They just said keep working on things you need to improve and just be ready and adapt to the situation,” Arnfelt said. “I have signed a contract, but you can get cut at any time. It’s a great opportunity. It’s about competing and playing at the highest level possible and if you put everything into it and work, the coaches will recognize that and then whatever happens will happen.”