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PITTSBURGH – They called it a Van Wert 7.

In the post-corner route named for a northwest Ohio school that executed it to perfection, the receiver ran 12 yards, took an outside step to a post and took four steps. As soon as the safety turned his hips, he planted and came back out toward the pylon.

It was a staple in Findlay (Ohio) High School’s offense in 1998, the route that Ryan Hite and Ben Roethlisberger used Friday nights to pick apart defenses filled with undersized cornerbacks.

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But Roethlisberger wasn’t the one throwing the ball.

He was on the receiving end of Hite’s passes – 57 of them that year to be exact.

Before he set records as a quarterback his senior year, before he became the Pittsburgh Steelers’ top draft pick out of Miami (Ohio), and before he won two Super Bowl rings as one of the NFL’s best signal-callers, Roethlisberger spent his junior year of high school playing wide receiver.

It gave Roethlisberger a deeper understanding of the game he took with him the rest of his career – something he found again last season as he stood on the sideline following a season-ending elbow injury in Week 2.

“[Findlay] coach [Cliff Hite] was always like, ‘It benefited you as a senior playing quarterback from playing wide receiver your junior year,'” Roethlisberger said. “I never understood it at the time, but I think it does to a certain extent because you can see the other side of it.

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A receiver for half of his freshman season on the JV squad, Roethlisberger was familiar with the position, and his height (6-foot-4) and hand size made him a mismatch nightmare. The pair tested out the combination at a 7-on-7 camp before Roethlisberger’s junior season.

“We threw 12 touchdowns or something like that, and 10 were from me to Ben,” Ryan Hite said. “One was from Ben to me. It’s not that we didn’t give it a shot, but I definitely didn’t have the catch radius. … His hands are probably twice the size mine are. He caught about anything we threw to him, which is ideal.”

It didn’t take long for the duo to see the same success on Friday nights.

Even more than 20 years later, Hite remembers the first series of that season. Findlay had a script, but once Hite saw a diminutive defensive back matching up with Roethlisberger, he tore up the plan.

“I audibled every single play because some 5-foot-4 guy was manning up to him and nobody over the top,” Hite said. “Between the two of us, we audibled it to a fade, and I threw it up and he caught it and got 15 yards.”

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“I’d actually say one of the greatest things to ever happen to him was watching football last year,” ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky said. “Not from this mental aspect of how much I missed it, but you can just learn differently. You learn differently when you stand there.

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“I think that Big Ben’s greatest growth this season is going to come from watching all of his teammates and seeing the things that they do and don’t do well.”

At the time, he would have given anything to be back out on the field. But the time off might have done Roethlisberger some good. After all, the last time he changed his view of the offense, he gained an arsenal of intangibles that helped him become one of the game’s most prolific passers.

“Ben always said that playing receiver that year helped him, and he was enough of a talent that he could succeed at either position,” said Dave Hanneman, who has covered high school sports for the Findlay Courier since 1990. “It’s just that he was destined to be a Super Bowl-winning quarterback.”