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Tyson Alualu's crazy journey back to playing for Steelers

From Ben Roethlisberger to JuJu Smith-Schuster, the Pittsburgh Steelers' offseason has been marked by some surprising and noteworthy returns.

Perhaps none has been quite as remarkable a ride as that of Tyson Alualu's homecoming.

One of myriad former first-round picks on the Steelers defense in 2020, Alualu was originally selected by the Jaguars and he was bound for a return trip to Jacksonville. Then he was infected by the novel coronavirus, which prevented him from flying out to Jacksonville to sign a new contract. Inevitably, he never left Pittsburgh and re-signed for two years, a crazy story as NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported on March 27, that has the 34-year-old defensive lineman obliged to be back with the Steelers, which he shared at this week's organized team activities.

"It was stressful during that time because me and my family knew we wanted to stay here in Pittsburgh, but we weren't reaching an agreement," Alualu said this week, via the team website's Bob Labriola. "Then I got COVID, and that gave me more time to think about wanting to stay in Pittsburgh. I talked to some of my teammates here and decided to switch over. It was nothing that Jacksonville did to change my mind. I am thankful and grateful that Jacksonville was a team that came after me heavy, but at the end of the day I'm just happy and grateful to be with the Pittsburgh Steelers and to try to chase a championship here."

Alualu's 10 starts in 2020 were the most in his Steelers four-year tenure, but nevertheless, he had agreed to head back to the Jaguars, who selected him 10th overall in the 2010 NFL Draft. Following seven seasons in Duval, Alualu had a home there, but he had already sold it and had a home in Pittsburgh, where he also had teammates who wanted him to stay put.

"I did have a place in Jacksonville, but I just sold my home there late last year. Maybe that played a factor in it -- having to start all over after I had left," Alualu said. "But my teammates here made me feel wanted, [told me] that they wanted me back and needed me back. There were a lot of emotions that played into it."

Teammates, emotions and COVID-19 all interceded, the latter preventing him from taking a flight to Jacksonville to officially sign with the Jaguars.

"I was supposed to fly out to Jacksonville the next day (and sign the contract), and then when I got tested I found out I had COVID. I didn't even know I had it," Alualu said. "But since I tested positive, I wasn't able to fly out to sign the contract. Throughout the whole process, even before I agreed to terms, my teammates and even [defensive line] coach [Karl] Dunbar were calling and checking on me, wanting to me to stay. My wife and I had a lot of conversations about what choice we wanted to make. Even after we agreed to terms in Jacksonville, after we talked about it and prayed about it, we felt [staying in Pittsburgh] was the best decision for our family."

Obviously, it wasn't a decision that likely suited those in Jacksonville all that well. Alualu realizes that and is regretful of that aspect of the ordeal, but he's still pleased to be in Pittsburgh.

"There were a lot of emotions that played into it," Alualu said, via TribLive's Joe Rutter. "I have personal relationships with people in Jacksonville, and I hurt them in the process, but I'm grateful I'm still a Steeler, and I'm still doing what I love in a place that I love."

COVID-19, a happy home and a change of heart led Alualu on a crazy odyssey in which he never left where he ended up.

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