Steelers Spotlight: Tunch Ilkin’s inspiring journey and his battle with ALS

Offensive lineman Tunch Ilkin #62 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
Offensive lineman Tunch Ilkin #62 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images) /
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Tunch Ilkin, former Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images) /

Tunch Ilkin and his faith

When Tunch came to America, his family practiced Islam. While growing up, he later faced adversity struggling with alcohol and drugs. He then went from Islam to atheist and agnostic.  He had some confusion in life. When he landed in Pittsburgh, his life and spirituality changed forever.

Tunch once believed men should be tough and hard-nosed. He also felt Christians were “weak.” Then he met his fellow lineman Jon Kolb. Jon, for sure, as offensive lineman go, was as tough and strong as anyone in the NFL. At training camp, he carried a Bible as well. Kolb affected Ilkin in a way he never thought possible. After much deliberation and contention with his family, he converted to Christianity. A decision he never regretted and one he decided to take seriously.

While playing with the Steelers, adjusting to his newfound faith, then involved himself with the Bible Chapel and men’s ministry, becoming a pastor. Late in his playing career, he took on the role of high school ministry with youth, as he had kids and felt this is something he should do. He did this for six years. After his kids grew, he found another calling in the ministry.

Tunch turned to men’s ministry, as it reminded him of his playing days with the Steelers. In teaching a ministry class every Wednesday and locking arms with them, they grew close and began facing challenges in life. Much in the same way he did with his fellow offensive lineman, whom he played with on the Steelers. A feeling which for Tunch is dear to his heart.

In 2000, Bill Cowher wanted Tunch Ilkin to join the Steelers as a coach where Tunch would coach as an assistant for one year then take over as offensive line coach in 2001. He eventually declined as he realized his position within the men’s ministry allowed him to do the same thing. Instead of coaching football players, Ilkin coached men instead. He passed on coaching in the NFL because of his love for what he did in the ministry. No one can deny he takes his faith and love of God seriously.

This profound faith prepared Tunch for an adversity he never thought he would endure. His diagnosis of ALS