There is something to be said for life's late bloomers. Bill Maas became a decorated, All-Pro defensive tackle for over a decade in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers despite – or in spite of – not playing the sport until his freshman year of high school. Growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, his late start was not born of a lack of desire, but more of a lack of opportunity.
“You know, my parents just didn't want me to play,” he explained. “I was always the biggest kid in school and when I got to high school, my coach was always after me to get out there and play. Finally, I just went to them and said, please let me play.”
Getting into full-contact football at such a late stage required Maas to get over some initial fears – fear of the unknown and some fear of the contact for the first time. He got through those very quickly and he took to the sport like the proverbial duck to water. Maas fell in love with football from that first practice and never looked back.
“The first day though, we were in pads and we did the Oklahoma drill and I did it and I thought, yeah, I did it,” he said. “I knew from that moment on that this sport was what I was supposed to be doing. I also learned the first and most valuable lesson in football and it is one that I still use to this day. Get up. It sounds like a simple thing, but it really becomes ingrained in you in football. You have to physically get up on almost every single play. That simple thing, getting up is incredibly valuable both literally and metaphorically in all aspects of life. You get knocked down, you get up.”
While not playing for a “powerhouse” program at Marple Newtown High School, Maas' size and athleticism attracted several major Division I programs. However, when it came time to decide where he wanted to attend college, Maas knew he wanted to find somewhere that his parents could come and watch him play. He found the perfect fit at the University of Pittsburgh.
“Back then, basketball was a much bigger sport in Philadelphia than football, especially high school football. When I took my visit to Pittsburgh, I saw how much that city loved football and I knew I wanted to be a part of it,” he said. “When you go to a school like Pitt, you feel the tradition and history like a weight on you as soon as you go there. You go there and you want to match that success, you want to be a part of it. That always drove me – the importance of being a Pitt Panther.”
Maas was taken with the fifth pick in the first round of the 1984 NFL Draft by the Chiefs. He hit the ground running that year and was named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. He was an integral part of the rebuilding of the Chiefs under Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer, but he always gave much of the credit of his success to the lessons he learned at Pitt.
“It's crazy to look back on it, but that first year I made the Pro Bowl in Hawaii, I'm on the field with 10 other Pitt Panthers,” Maas said. “I'm there with Chris Doleman, Russ Grimm, Mark May, Dan Marino, Tim Lewis, Carlton Williamson, Hugh Green, Rickey Jackson, we all went to school together. It was amazing.”
Prior to his retiring, Maas had already – although unknowingly – taken steps toward his future career off the field. He had begun doing local radio and television spots in Kansas City and dabbling in real estate investment.
“I think everything I've done after football, I think you can easily point to some of the lessons I got from football to help me succeed,” he said. “I was in broadcasting for 12 years and am now involved in commercial real estate. If you look at those two industries, for example, you have to be a good teammate to be successful in them. Football, and a lot of team sports for that matter, helps you prepare for that. You learn in football you can't be successful on your own.”